For all the pain and disruption caused by COVID-19, at least one benefit appears to have come out of the pandemic for seniors: Their confidence about aging in place has soared!
A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that the challenges posed to older people – many of whom were left sequestered alone in their homes – actually increased how much trust they were able to place in themselves and their abilities.
The challenges posed to older people – many of whom were left sequestered alone in their homes – actually increased how much trust they were able to place in themselves and their abilities.
Seniors are resilient
The survey, which was a part of a larger ongoing longitudinal study, asked 214 respondents to rate their general self-confidence as well as their confidence in a variety of scenarios—from managing their health to social interactions. Some examples include confidence in their ability to arrange rides and appointments as well as in seeking support when they need help understanding something.
The researchers from Northwestern University found marked differences between the 66 seniors who responded to the survey before the pandemic and the 148 who answered after restrictions had been put in place. In fact, pandemic-era respondents not only had higher confidence in general but reported significantly higher confidence in their abilities to manage social interactions.
Respondents not only had higher confidence in general but reported significantly higher confidence in their abilities to manage social interactions.
“Self-doubt is a part of human nature,” the study’s authors wrote. “COVID-19 restrictions forced older adults to experience the loss of in-person human interactions and overcome their self-doubt in managing social interactions. Older adults adapted to the challenges of isolated aging in place and came ahead with higher self-efficacy.”
Good news for caregivers
The news is positive, considering 77% of older adults want to age in place, according to the AARP. A boost in confidence will be a big help for caregivers who do not want to see their loved ones institutionalized, and it opens the door for the necessary planning that will be needed to keep a senior home long-term (such as adding grab bars and ramps or reconfiguring a two-story house).
Aging in place is good for both seniors and their caregivers. By staying in their homes, older people are able to hold onto more of their independence as they can determine their day-to-day life.
In addition, uprooting someone at the end of their life can have numerous detrimental effects, including anxiety, depression and loneliness. For caregivers who worry about these aspects, keeping a loved one home can be a big relief with the right support.
Questions to help prepare for aging in place
A report from the University of Michigan found that only 15% of seniors had given home modification much thought, but it’s a good idea for families to use this time to plan ahead for aging in place. It’s important to center seniors in the decision-making process and talk to them about their needs early.
Linna Zhu, who works with the Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center and is a visiting assistant professor at Indiana University-Bloomington, told AARP:
“A portion of seniors are aging in place but are also stuck in place. They don’t have the financial resources to help them move or relocate or downsize, or they cannot afford to live in the nursing homes.”
This is why an early open dialogue with seniors is so important. Questions to ask may include:
8 questions to ask to prepare for aging in place
- What home modifications can we make now so your home can continue to meet your needs as you age?
- If it’s a multi-story home, is there a bedroom and bathroom available on the ground floor?
- Is it more realistic to downgrade to a smaller home or move in with family?
- How can we meet your transportation needs? What about in an emergency?
- Are you willing to have additional caregivers come into the home to help you?
- What tasks would you be most comfortable with them doing?
- What are some anxieties you have about living alone? How can we make you more comfortable with the idea?
- What other concerns do you have we should address now?
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open as circumstances can change, and what a senior was comfortable with at one point may not be the same as they lose their abilities. About half of older adults who responded to the AARP survey agreed they would be willing to consider an accessory dwelling unit – such as a mother-in-law cottage – or multi-generational home. These are both aging-in-place options that can offer seniors the support they need while maintaining their independence and preventing institutionalization.