Aging in place is the goal of many senior citizens. After all, very few people look forward to spending the last few days of their lives in an assisted living facility, nursing home, or hospital. However, aging in place doesn’t just happen. It must be carefully planned and arranged.
The first stage of making arrangements for your loved one to remain in place as he or she ages is to look forward into the future. This might involve asking some personal questions. Your loved one may get upset with you and insist that he or she will manage just fine.
Do not back off. Your loved one may not know what is best for him or herself at this point. It is up to you to insist on getting the answers and putting the interventions in place to ensure your loved one’s continued safety at home.
Assess Your Loved One’s Current Health
Does your loved one have a physical illness like cancer, heart disease, or severe arthritis that could make aging in place difficult? If so, find out all you can about the likely progression of the illness. This will enable you to get as much equipment and assistance in place as possible.
Next assess for cognitive illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease. Cognitive illnesses typically have a slow, steady progression that robs your loved one of memory and judgment. Aging in place past a certain point is not safe unless your loved one lives with a capable caregiver.
Finally, evaluate your loved one’s senses. Not being able to see or hear well can make it difficult for your loved one to use the telephone or to hear a warning device like a fire alarm.
Allies in Your Assessment
You will be able to get much of the information you need by observing your loved one. When it comes to understanding complex conditions, however, or making long term predictions about your loved one’s health, it pays to have allies. Some of your best allies will be your loved one’s physicians – general practitioners, eye doctors, ENT specialists, oncologists, psychiatrists and rheumatologists. Remember that these doctors cannot talk to you without your loved one’s written consent. You may need to be very firm with your loved one to get these consents signed.
Your loved one’s friends and other nearby family members can also be a valuable source of information about your loved one’s overall condition. Finally, if your loved one has healthcare professionals in the home like home health or hospice workers, they, too, might be able to give you an idea of what your loved one needs to age in place.
For instance, a hospice worker advised the family of a man with lung cancer that he could stay at home by himself as long as he used his portable oxygen, ambulated with a walker, and ordered home delivered meals instead of trying to cook. Using these interventions, he was able to live out his life at home.
Assess the Community
Even if your loved one is relatively healthy, his or her community may have deteriorated to the point where aging in place is no longer an option. Of course, your first concern will probably be crime. Another common concern is fire due to frayed electrical cords or overloaded outlets. Also, some older homes might simply fall into disrepair with cracked walkways and broken steps.
Depending on where your loved one lives, you may also need to assess for weather concerns like floods, blizzards or heatstroke. Once you have thoroughly assessed your loved one and his or her environment for current or future issues that may impact his or her ability to age in place, it’s time to make a list of needed equipment and assistance.
For instance, if your loved one has trouble getting around, you will probably want to ensure that all doorways are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Grab bars in the bathroom are also a good idea. You may also want to purchase a special chair that will help your loved one sit and stand, and perhaps even a hospital bed.
Clearly, the price of these purchases can add up quickly. If money is an issue, you may be able to find some help.
Medicare Part B will pay up to 80 percent of the cost of most durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs and hospital beds. Some communities have low cost or free warehouses where you can find equipment that isn’t covered by Medicare. A thrift store is a good place to look for a sit-to-stand chair.
Many communities also have charitable programs to cover services like repairs done to old houses. Fire departments often give away free smoke detectors, and police precincts may volunteer to do routine welfare checks on senior citizens. Most communities also have a free or low cost home delivered meals program. This is often referred to as Meals on Wheels.
The different states have departments on aging where you can check for additional services like homemakers.
If you are trying to help your loved one age in place, the first thing you must do is look ahead to potential issues. Once you have some idea of what to expect, you can start making plans to keep your loved one safely at home for as long as possible.