Most of us live as though we’ll be here forever, never considering the end game. Mostly it’s because we see aging as loss. Who wants to prepare for that?
But is that short-sighted? Or were the Girl Scouts on to something when they exorted, Be Prepared!
As far as I’m concerned, an appropriate motto for aging should be Adapt or Die, because if we do not adapt to our changing conditions and needs, we’re in for a rough ride. Maybe even a rough death.
The term aging in place wasn’t a “thing” in my parents’ generation. It means “aging at home.”But that’s really what most of their parents did: lived in their family home until the end. Or went straight to a nursing home after a stroke, heart attack or a broken hip.
People used to die young
Preventive care was rare, so people born in the early part of the 20th century died young, usually. They didn’t live long enough to die from the infirmities and diseases so common today.
But now, we’re living long enough to experience disease, treatment and of course, trip and fall. We are far more vulnerable, even if we don’t feel it. The general weaknesses that are a natural part of aging appear. Because there are natural consequences of aging. Normal. Even though we’d like to ignore them.
We are not 50 or even 60.
Things are different now. Our reflexes are slower, our thought process less sharp. We don’t hear well and sometimes can’t see as well, either. We are frailer. Bones break. That can make any little thing, well, a bigger thing.
These are inescapable facts. No one is spared the effects of aging. Not yet, anyway. We deny these changing conditions at our own peril, and the same with the changing needs that accompany them.
Well, we can deny them. And some do. But it’s just not smart. As we age, a happy and long life requires us to adapt to our new reality.
Not a nursing home!
Our parents generation had few choices–home, nursing home or……nursing home. That’s no longer true.
Continuing care communities are a godsend. Fortunately, a growing number of continuing care communities for seniors are available today. These tri-level communities are a newer way to provide services to an aging population. They can take us from being active adults through assisted living (if necessary) and on to skilled nursing, if that’s the way it goes. None of them are cheap, but not all are super-expensive.
Active adults in these communities live much as they did in their own homes. Independently, but in a community. If something should happen, assisted living is available. And, if things progress, onsite skilled nursing is right there, all in one big neighborhood. It makes a lot of sense, if you can afford it. See my section on money below.
Aging in place is preferred by many. By far, though, many of us would rather age in our own homes. And it’s less expensive. But that takes some careful planning, preparation and maybe even renovation or moving. And most important: a change in mind set.
Aging is a privilege that requires us to be in touch with the reality of our life. We really can’t do everything we did when we were younger. Rather than bemoan this, life is easier when we accept our changing abilities and focus on what we can do.
And perhaps one of those things we CAN do is age at home, as long as possible. So, how to do that in a smart way? Some ideas:
Audit your physical home
Think about ways to make your home as livable as possible as you age.
Stairs are never a good idea, for obvious reasons. Ask anyone with an upstairs bedroom who has had to set up a makeshift bedroom in the dining or living room after breaking a hip. Aging in place was on our minds when we bought our current one-story, no stairs home — I was in my late 50s (Ok, one step, from the kitchen to the laundry room.)
Look around. Think through what you’d do if you had to age at home. Could you?
Wide doorways are helpful, for possible wheelchairs and walkers. We didn’t consider this, but turns out our renovated home has wide doorways and one bathroom is wheelchair-accessible.
Speaking of bathrooms. Bars could be installed next to the toilet, for support. And you can replace standard height toilets with those at “comfort height,” meaning two or three inches higher than the standard 15-16 inches from the floor. This is an easy, not too expensive change to make in any home.
The tub‘s a different story, but at our house, we could get a wheelchair quite close to the shower “cubicle” in the master bath. Yes, I’ve thought about this.
Rugs. Throw rugs are accidents waiting to happen. Wall to wall carpeting is the way to go. Or uncarpeted. Right now, we have a lot of throw rugs to help our almost 15-year old dog, Benji, who can’t get traction on the hardwood in our hall and kitchen. The rugs are definitely tripping hazards and we are well aware of that. Some of them are held in place with double-sided tape.
Cords. In our house they’re everywhere. Laptops. Charging cords for phones, tablets, speakers. I’ve tripped and had one painful fall (nothing broken) — and immediately tucked all cords away.
Getting help. When I fell, my husband was in the other room running a vacuum. I was nowhere near my phone–if I’d needed help, how would I get it? What if I were alone? I’m not ready for a “call help” pendant yet, but were I living alone I would absolutely subscribe. They are a necessity if you are aging in place, especially alone..No one wants to fall, be unable to get up, then lie on the floor in pain for days before being found.
Phones. We still have a landline. Why? Because when you dial 911 from a landline your exact address comes up. That is not true of a cell phone, which only comes up with a general area. That single capability is the only reason we still have a landline. Well, also in case of a natural disaster when cell phone connections are hard to come by. This gives us a non-internet, non-cell phone way to get help if power is down. (yes, a plug in phone that is not electric in our earthquake prep kit)
Do you get the drift? It’s all about planning. Anticipating. Thinking it through before you need to.
This is a big one. Cars are a symbol of independence. Older people are reluctant to give driving up, even when they know they are shaky on freeways and overall more uncertain on the road. This month an 84-year old woman hit the accelerator instead of the brakes and drove through a glass window, killing someone. Yes, dead. I am certain she thought she was capable of driving. Needless to say, she was not. But it was too late for the person she hit.
I know so many people who refuse to consider that this could happen. My own father was one.
No one thinks these things will happen to them. If friends and family say your driving is unsafe, then it is. Get a grip. You could hurt or even kill someone –or yourself. Give the keys up. I’ll be doing that when the time comes, and without protest.
So many transportation options! We are lucky today to have options like Uber and Lyft. In some cities, public transportation is a good choice. Grocery delivery (which I used often for several years during the pandemic. It was wonderful. I still use it periodically). Meal delivery of all kinds. Shop for clothes on line. Shoes. Books. Whatever. Of course, you can also ask to tag along with a younger friend or family member to do your own shopping when they shop.
Point is, you don’t have to be housebound if you no longer drive. These many options allow us to retain our independence when we give up our vehicles. This should not be the big deal people make of it.
If you are aging in place, be creative about figuring out your own solutions! Give up the car because it is unsafe for you to drive. It’s not a loss if you have other options. Which you do.
If you’re aging in place, good nutrition is a must. My friend, Marcia, wrote this excellent piece on nutrition and recipes for healthy aging. Her recipes are terrific; not time consuming at all. And the advice is also good. Find it here.
Home health aides.
If you are infirm and have family who can help you, you are miles ahead. And I mean real help. On the daily, if needed. Assuming your needs aren’t great. But sometimes, you need more.
My girlfriend had a home health aide for the year before she died. After seeing how helpful her aide was and how much better and easier her life was with help, I became a fan. Yes, expensive. That’s all I’ll say about it here, maybe another post.
What about the money?
There’s no question that some of these preparations and options for aging in place take money. But some are relatively affordable. My point here is that we should all start the thought process early, look into the possibilities and cost, and then begin to prepare. Don’t wait until the last minute, like most people. Do what you can do, given your situation and your finances.
Check your mindset.
Yes, mindset: how you interpret and respond to situations and this case, the situation is aging. Are you in blind denial? Or are you looking squarely at aging and adapting your habits and lifestyle to this new scenario?
Adapt or die, that’s my motto! And to that end, my husband and I have been discussing continuing care communities for several years now. And will probably be visiting a few fairly soon.
At our house, the conversation has been going on since my husband turned 70, five years ago. We are realists.
But I’ve been thinking about it much longer–since my father went into a memory care unit two decades ago and I saw how nice facilities could be.
And to show you how long this has been on my radar screen:
Here’s a post I did eight years ago on the same subject.