My front porch has three steps before the landing, the tub-shower is a 16-inch step-in, and the washer and dryer are downstairs. What do they all have in common? Issues my husband and I may have to address as we inch closer to the so-called “golden years.”
As my folks have aged, I’ve watched them struggle with knees, hips and backs that are past their prime. It’s made me acutely aware of some pretty big and little changes that may have to be made in my home in coming years to “age in place,” as it’s called.
With the average age of the American farmer now at 57.5 years — up 1.2 years from 2012 — there are more and more falling into this category.
Consider daily living activities
As we age, things that might seem commonplace in the home may not be as practical anymore. Questions such as, “Can this help my freedom and quality of life?” or “How can this assist me?” are essential in considering aging in the home versus aging in assisted living. For many aging people, these questions could be the difference between retaining their independence and dignity or having to live dependent on others.
My late father-in-law, who had polio as a child and later Parkinson’s disease, was in a wheelchair, but very independent. All the interior doors were removed for easier movement. A special walk-in tub was installed, and a stacked washer and dryer was half-bath on the main floor. Above his bed, a chain from the ceiling with a bar at the end allowed him to use his arms to help sit up.
For my mother-in-law, who uses a walker, there are special grips in strategic places to provide balance. About six years ago I started cooking for her, as we were worried about her using the stove or forgetting something. We have our own Meals on Wheels — as I cook, and my husband delivers a hot dinner to her every night. She’s still able to do her personal care, but the family has taken over most of her household chores and money management.
I’m lucky in that my parents and mother-in-law are all located within about five minutes of my home and are doing OK aging at home. Others may not be as lucky.
Help planning ahead
According to the National Institute on Aging, planning ahead is the best strategy to age at home. One way to begin planning is to look at any illnesses, like diabetes or emphysema, that you or your spouse might have, the NIA advises. Talk with your doctor about how these health problems could make it hard for someone to get around or take care of him- or herself in the future.
I’d much rather be planning for a vacation or planning to baby-proof my house for next year’s arrival of our first grandbaby, but planning to get old is something that needs attention, too. My paternal grandmother lived to be 92 and lived in the very house we live in now … without any of the modifications I first mentioned. I can hope and pray to be as lucky.
According to seniorliving.org, aging in place means you will ultimately need to ask yourselves some hard questions:
• What is the ideal way for you to spend your retired years?
• Where exactly is the type of home environment you see yourself in — individual, community, assisted?
• What special health care do you require, or think you will ?
• What other types of supplementary services might you require ?
• What options have you provided for in case of emergencies, life-changing events, accidents, etc.?
In addition, American Seniors Housing Association has a great checklist of considerations for when a person is deciding to age at home, or in a retirement or assisted living community.