aging in place seniors

For some, a good life means staying in their own homes well into old age and forgoing retirement communities. Guest blogger Kim Shea discusses what’s necessary to make aging in place for seniors successful.

Kim Shea
Founder, Shea Companions
What does aging in place mean?  To age in place means older people maintaining independence to remain in their homes with the support of family, friends, and/or medical services.  It is a system millions of Americans consider designed to reduce the costs of care older adults or their families would otherwise pay to a retirement community or nursing home.

I have a good friend in her eighties. She lives alone and likes it that way. Her greatest fear is being placed in a nursing home.

She has fallen so many times already but that is a risk she is willing to take in exchange for her independence.

While it is the dream for many people to live independently for the rest of their days, for others the dream is a luxurious retirement community. A retirement community can take care of all of the cooking, gardening, and home maintenance. It also provides a lot of daily activities to enhance their quality of life.

But for many, a good life means staying in their own homes even if it doesn’t have all the perks of the retirement community.

The greatest perk of a retirement community is the support from staff and close neighbors. If the person in #502 doesn’t show up for dinner, friends and staff will investigate. If someone falls, friends and staff will alert authorities to make sure help arrives quickly.

When someone decides to age in their own home, the support can be missing. It is imperative that you plan ahead if you decide that it is your goal to age in place. Take steps to make it possible for you to succeed!

Five Steps for Aging in Place Successfully

1. Take good care of your children so they will take good care of you someday. Whether “good care” means the children will provide hands-on care or find you a great nursing home and advocate for you, it means that you will have people looking out for you. If you have not done so already, make sure you build good relationships with your family and friends, or at the very least as you grow older, communicate with them so everyone is aware of your wishes.

2. If you are childless you must start building your support team now. Join clubs or groups that allow you to get to know the other members. Make the effort to build meaningful relationships with the other members. My friend belongs to a club with weekly meetings and it includes adults of all ages. She is quite charming and gregarious, and has won everyone over. If she needs anything, she knows the other members will come through for her.  Carol Marak of wrote an excellent article that does deeper into the issues that many ‘elder orphans’ face in this article.
3. Prepare financially for your care. Whereas someone with a family might have adult children who can house them and help with the hands-on care, a childless older person needs to plan on who will care for them. Will a long-term care community or an in-home agency fit the bill? Literally fit the bill? Three years of long-term care for an adult aged 65 and older in the average nursing home would cost roughly $200K! Talk to a financial planner to make sure you are on a sound path. It’s also a good idea to talk to an insurance agent to see if long-term care insurance makes sense for you. The values of those plans have changed over time so be sure it makes sense for you to invest.
4. Speaking of insurance…investigate the health plans you are signing up for! Many insurances lack coverage for out of network providers. That becomes an issue when you are in a nursing home. A very popular insurance that offers low rates also will not allow out of network providers. What does that mean for you? If you need a psychologist, an optometrist, a podiatrist, etc., you will need to leave the nursing home to get those services. You might not feel up to the travel and you will likely need to pay for the travel to get to an appointment. Do your homework!
5. Do not disregard the tools you need to live on your own. Use them! A friend of mine recently commented that she does not want to use her walker because she feels like an invalid whenever she uses it. That walker is a tool to maintain her independence. The walker is going to keep her out of a wheelchair and out of a nursing home for longer. No one thinks they are going to fall. Guess what? Every 19 minutes an older person falls and dies from the injuries. In the last 5 years I have known more than 10 people personally who have had serious falls. Many of them died from the complications. This number does not include all of those I knew from working in a nursing home. Falling is very common and deadly serious. Use your tools to stay alive and independent.

If staying in your home is your personal goal, I applaud you. I hope you plan ahead to make it happen and I hope you stay safe. May we all be privileged to live long, healthy lives of our own design.

Kim Shea is a former caregiver who now writes about aging and caregiving in a weekly blog.