Greater MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Seniors, is coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and brings together leaders from Greater MetroWest agencies to promote independence and support vitality among older adults. Throughout the year, Greater MetroWest CARES agencies have the opportunity to address critical eldercare issues in this column. This month’s article on “aging in place” is presented by Jewish Vocational Service.
While “aging in place” is a phrase that may not have been commonly used a generation or two ago, it is now a familiar one, referring to the goal of many who want to remain in their homes near family and friends as they age.
Aging in place is something about which we should all be knowledgeable and for which we can all prepare. In considering whether we — or perhaps our parents or other family members — will be able to remain in our long-time homes, asking these questions may be helpful:
• Is my current residence a feasible place for me to grow old? Is there an alternative to stairs? Can I make my home livable on the first level? Are the hallways wide enough to accommodate a walker?
• Is my home too large for me to properly maintain on my own when I’m 65 and older? Is there someone who will live with me and/or can assume the responsibility of maintaining my home?
• Am I financially prepared to live alone and pay for the costs associated with extra help? Can I afford a cleaning service? Can I afford a home health aide? Can I afford a property maintenance service?
• Are there retirement complexes or affordable senior housing in my community?
• Do I live in a mixed generation community?
• Is there a senior transportation service in my community that I can utilize when I can no longer drive?
• Who will I rely on in case of an emergency? How close is my nearest family member?
• Am I engaging in routine preventative care to minimize my susceptibility to catastrophic illness or injury? Can I afford health-care and rehabilitation services if I experience a fall or major illness?
• Do I desire the company of others on a daily basis?
• Have I discussed my living situation and plans with my family, health-care provider, or social services professional?
If, after answering these questions honestly, the decision is made to remain at home, it may be helpful to think about supportive services. Of the variety of services available to older adults, two that can make daily life easier and safer as you grow old in the comfort of your long-time home are physical home modifications and assistance from a home health aide.
Typical home modifications to accommodate a senior’s needs may include installing grab bars, handheld showerheads, and shower seats; widening doorways to 36 inches with off-set hinges; installing levered door handles in place of knobs; increasing natural light and specific task lighting; installing an outdoor ramp to accommodate one stairless entrance; and, if possible, adapting the first level of the home to accommodate one-level living.
In addition to improving your safety with physical modifications to your home, you may consider improving your safety in performing tasks of daily living by employing the services of a home health aide. Many start out hiring an aide simply to help maintain the cleanliness of one’s home, to serve as an escort to doctors’ appointments, and to assist with grocery shopping. However, they eventually grow to depend on their caregivers to provide more personal care services as their needs evolve. As they have already established a trusting relationship with the caregiver, it is the perfect transition to have this same qualified individual assist with daily living activities that become too difficult or painful to do on one’s own such as bathing, dressing, maintaining proper hygiene, or preparing meals.
Whatever the outcome, the important thing to remember is that growing old is something for which we can all prepare. As difficult as it may be to broach the subject with our loved ones, it is often easier to have a conversation before needs are urgent. Just as we shouldn’t prepare for a hurricane when the first raindrops hit the ground, we should not wait to be caught off guard by the “obstacles” of aging when so many of them may be overcome while we still have the capacity to take measures to do so.