As the number of older adults aged 65 and older increases in the United States, it is becoming more common that older adults hope to age at home.
Many of us don’t think much about having to give up our home, our things, our lives as we age. We don’t think much about aging at all, actually. But the truth is, we are all getting older.
In 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that there were 52 million Americans 65 years or older, and they predict the number of older adults will almost double by 2060. We are living longer thanks to modern medicine. However, it’s also important to plan for the possibilities that come with aging and help those who are already at that stage to manage their needs in the best way possible.
And the best way doesn’t always mean giving up our homes. In fact, many older adults are choosing now to age in place rather than find placement in a retirement community, assisted living facility, or nursing home.
The main goal of aging in place is to maintain independence and safety within the home. And as your loved one’s needs and abilities change, it is important that you have an open dialogue. By encouraging conversations as a family you can put together the best plan for your loved one’s safety and independence.
However, these conversations can be difficult.
That’s why this article will give you tips on talking to aging parents about changes, the benefits of aging in place, what to do when aging parents refuse help, and aging in place house plans. Careful planning and communication can help older adult family members feel supported in their decision to age in place. Knowing how and when to discuss these sensitive topics can create a sense of teamwork rather than tension throughout the aging process.
Planning Ahead: Talking to Aging Parents about Aging In Place
Talking to aging parents about change is never easy. As we age, we all have developed certain habits, routines, and expectations that make our lives easier. However, as our own bodies change, sometimes things in our lives need to change, too. Here are three things to consider when having the hard conversation with a parent about change:
- Acknowledge that change is not easy.
- Acknowledge that changes have occurred.
- Ask your aging parent what changes they think need to be made.
- Discuss what could happen if changes are not made.
Acknowledge that change is not easy
Change is difficult for all of us.
From the outside looking in, it can be easy to talk about change and how to manage it. But when it is your life, body, and mind changing, it can be hard to talk about. Start the conversation by acknowledging how they may feel about the topic of age-related changes.
Acknowledge that changes have occurred
We have all heard “the first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging you have one”, or something similar. We are with ourselves 24/7. That may seem obvious, but think about what that means.
That means that those minor changes happening within our bodies and minds might get missed by us, whereas to someone else they are obvious. Think back to when you would visit family around the holidays as a kid. Day to day, you never noticed that you were getting taller, but people you saw only once a year might be astonished at how you’d grown.
It can be the same with any internal change, as well. As we age, our abilities change, including:
- Decreased balance
- Diminished vision
- Decreased strength
- Decreased endurance
- Declining short-term memory
- Changes due to progressive diagnosis or acute medical condition
It is important to discuss with your aging parent what changes you are seeing and give them concrete examples. Tell them about a time when they noticed themselves having difficulty and discuss what age-related changes might have caused that difficulty.
Talk constructively with them about what might happen in the future if these changes are not considered or changes in the home are not made. But always return to point number one: change is not easy. And acknowledging that change can be even more difficult. Be patient with yourself and your aging parent.
Ask your aging parent what changes they think need to be made
The scariest part of aging for many is losing a sense of independence. That’s why it is recommended to always start the conversation by asking your aging parent about changes they think need to be made first. They may have thought about it more than you realize. They are living each day with their changing body and mind, after all.
Once you and your aging parent have been able to voice your areas of concern, it will be useful to also discuss:
- What modifications can be done now, and what can be done in the future?
- How much assistance will your aging parent need in the future (e.g. full-time or part-time caregivers)?
- What does their full support system look like and how might that aid the process of change and future needs?
Need help navigating aging as a family? Click the link to connect with our Client Care who can provide you with additional resources.
Discuss what could happen if changes are not made
Don’t wait for change to come. Falls are the number one cause of injury-related death and disability in older adults. Even putting the most severe outcomes aside, 35% of older adults who sustain a fall require increased care, home modifications, or even full-time assistance. Be proactive about your changing needs and make the modifications today that you might need for later.
Acknowledging Differences in Opinion: What to Do When Aging Parents Refuse Help
It is common that families experience differences in opinion related to aging in place. Though talking to aging parents about changes may be difficult, it is important to acknowledge these differences in opinion from the start.
Being honest with family members about your beliefs regarding aging in place is helpful to ensure all perspectives are heard and acknowledged.
When these difficult conversations arise, it is important that all family members respect the opinions and beliefs that are expressed by others. The best way to accomplish this is by validating their beliefs, trying to understand their rationale, and working together to discuss the pros and cons of all options.
It is helpful to meet with the older adult’s primary care physician or specialist to discuss how relevant medical diagnoses or health issues may impact their ability to age in place. Your physician can provide you with insight as to the progression of any disability, medical diagnosis, or health issue which can shed light on the expected level of independence in the future.
Additionally, it is important that families discuss the financial implications of aging in place.
The average cost of living in a nursing home or assisted living center is approximately $83,000 per year. If an individual hopes to age in place, there are several finances to consider including the cost of home modifications or long-term home care services, all of which depend on the individual's level of independence and current home environment. In these cases, families can consult with a wealth management service provider to determine options for the future.
Working Together: Discover the Benefits of Aging in Place
So what’s really the big deal about aging in place? Won’t my loved one get more care in a facility or retirement community? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to have them living in a facility rather than pay for home care?
These are all great questions. The truth is, though, aging in place is actually a more beneficial environment for many older adults. Not only does it feel more comfortable, but aging in place also has the following benefits:
- more affordable
- slows the progression of memory loss
- strengthens support systems
First thing’s first: finances. This is one of the primary benefits of aging in place. When people talk about “facilities'' that can care for their aging loved one, they are generally referring to either a nursing home or assisted living facility. However, long-term placement into one of these facility types is not covered by Medicare.
Some Medicare supplements may provide assistance, but overall the cost of long-term care in a nursing home averages at $82,000 per year and assisted living averages at $43,000 per year. Contrastingly, home health care is a service covered by Medicare. This may include nursing care, home health aides, therapy (occupational, physical, or speech), social services, and medical supplies if a medical need arises. Even without the help of insurance, in-home care costs about half as much per year as residing in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility. So rest assured, aging in place does not mean depleting savings or forgoing needed services.
When older adults are diagnosed with a condition that causes memory loss, the most important first step is to develop consistency and routine. This is simply not possible if the older adult is then removed from social circles and placed in a facility.
All the things that were familiar to them are taken away. Not to mention their social connectedness. Research shows that older adults with frequent social activity had a rate of cognitive decline that was 70% less than those with low social activity. It is important that those older adults with memory decline remain in familiar environments as long as possible. And that means aging at home for as long as possible.
As we age, people come and go from our lives for various reasons. However, adults who remain in their own community have a much higher chance of maintaining a strong support system of family, friends, and even businesses or organizations.
One of the benefits of aging in place is that it allows older adults to maintain social connectedness through community groups, local businesses, and even hosting their own events. These activities protect against mental health concerns, such as depression, and obesity, which is prevalent among adults aged 51 and older.
If after discussing the benefits of aging in place, the older adult and the family decide that aging in place is the best option, proper planning and coordination is required to ensure safety and independence are maintained over time. A wonderful starting place to prepare for aging in place is to become aware of the local and national service providers that aid in supporting older adults hoping to age in place.
There are a variety of resources available for both older adults, family members, and caregivers who hope to support the older adult hoping to age in place, including (but not limited to):
- Jukebox Health
- American Occupational Therapy Association Home Modification Information
- National Council on Aging
- Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)
- National Institute on Aging
- Meals on Wheels
- Health Finder
- Guide to Long-Term Care for Veterans
- Center for Independent Living (CIL)
- Local Area Agencies on Aging
- Local community centers, senior centers, churches, synagogues, and more
Talking about a decline in function as we age is never easy. However, with the tips we presented, you and your loved one can develop a plan for aging in place safely.
Just like we plan for retirement from a job, it is important to plan for other life changes, such as physical, visual, and cognitive changes that can occur with aging. Don’t wait until something happens. Prepare the home so that it is ready for the changes life will bring.