What is aging in place? The term aging in place is something that many of us may have heard over and over and may not have a clear understanding of what it means. Once someone explains it to us, we may still ask, what is aging in place? It can mean different things to different families. Staying in the home where we raised five children on a 100-acre farm is probably not the best place for most people to age so often times aging in place may involve a move but aging in place means aging in a place where one is living independently. The lines get very blurry though depending on what kind of care may be necessary to allow someone to age in place and it should be examined closely as one of the many alternatives for how someone can be happy in their elderly years.
So, what is aging in place?
“Don’t put me in a nursing home!” is a cry many adult children hear from their aging parents. An AARP survey showed that fully 80% of seniors prefer to grow old in their own homes rather than enter an institutional setting.
When seniors stay in their own homes for as long as possible, it is called “aging in place.”
By most definitions, aging in place means that a senior stays in a community, exercising some level of autonomy rather than entering into a residential health care situation.
On a deeper level, aging in place means that a senior retains control over his or her life and enjoys autonomy and independence. Simply being aged doesn’t mean a person wants to become helpless or have all of his or her decision-making power taken away. Staying in an environment the senior chooses, whether that involves a planned move to a senior-friendly area or staying where the senior currently lives, means the senior is still in charge of his or her life. It affords dignity.
While empowering seniors, aging in place also comforts them. Aging in place allows for a sense of familiarity and security, living in known and reasonably predictable circumstances.
Since the number of seniors is growing worldwide, issues and challenges relating to aging will only increase in importance. Some thirty-five million Americans topped the “over 65” marker in the year 2000. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by the year 2030, there will be nearly 72 million Americans in that illustrious category. One out of every five Americans will be a senior citizen.
Once we understand all of the options for senior living, we may still ask “What is aging in place”, because it may still not be clear. What is clear is that where and how we will live as we age is becoming a major social concern. Aging in place has many advantages, including economic ones.
Yet there is one paramount challenge to seniors aging in place. All seniors and caregivers should be aware of the nature of this concern and should focus on this issue when considering the benefits of aging in place.
The Biggest Concern about Aging in Place
Safety is the biggest concern for seniors aging in place, and by far the greatest threat to seniors’ safety is falling down. According to a statistical report by the National Safety Council entitled Injury Facts 2015, adults age 65 and older are at high risk for being injured and even killed by a fall. The report states that falls are the leading cause of deaths resulting from injuries in those aged 65 and older.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of three adults over the age of 65 falls down in a year’s time. Falls are the main cause of non-fatal as well as fatal injuries among older adults. In 2013, for example, the number of elderly people going to emergency rooms for falls topped two million. A significant portion of those required hospitalizations after their falls. In the same year, some 25,000 elderly people died from fall injuries.
Although older adults comprise only about 10% of the current population, they comprise almost one-quarter of accidental deaths, the topmost reason being fallen.
Seniors may fall down because they grow dizzy because they are startled, because of balance problems, or weak points in body structure (e.g., a knee gives out at a crucial moment). Their home environment may be full of landmines as far as falling goes.
The good news is that many, many falls can be prevented by some simple, inexpensive lifestyle and home environment changes. Using these precautions, the aging-in-place senior can be protected.
Exercise helps prevent falls because it increases strength and enhances balance. People who exercise often have a better sense of where they are spiritual, too. Medicines should be monitored for side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness. Eyesight should be guarded carefully, with up-to-date prescriptions for visual clarity. Seniors’ homes should be especially well-lighted. Carpets should be nailed down; any bath mats or throw rugs should be secured through latex backing or rug guards underneath. Grab bars should be installed in key places like the bathroom. Ingesting plenty of calcium, Vitamin C, and prescribed osteoporosis medicine can keep bones strong to help absorb impact during a fall.
The National Safety Council recommends making sure clutter is cleared out of any walkways. This means electrical cords are run along walls, furniture is arranged so that there are plenty of wide spaces available for getting around, and most items are safely stowed away. Spills on hard floors in the kitchen or in the bathroom should be wiped up right away. Nightlights along hallways, in the kitchen, and in the bathroom can serve as friendly beacons to safety. Handrails in strategic areas can also safeguard seniors.
Aging in place offers many benefits to seniors, their families, and society as long as it takes place safely. Simple awareness and home environmental precautions can safeguard seniors aging in place from the greatest threat they face: taking a spill.
To summarize, we may ask “what is aging in place” but the most important question is “is aging in place the best living arrangement for me or a loved one”?
Injury Facts 2015, National Safety Council, available online at http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/safety-at-home-falls.aspx
The Centers for Disease Control, available online at http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html.
“Meeting Safety Needs of Older Adults,” Chapter 9, Unit II, Basic Skills for Gerontologic Nursing, Evolve. Available online at: http://www.elsevieradvantage.com/samplechapters/9780323073998/9780323073998.pdf