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Living at home: It’s a heartfelt desire shared by the majority of aging adults as they enter their twilight years. But that can slip out of reach as the wear and tear of life builds with every birthday. But there are simple ways to make “aging in place” workable for you or someone you love. Some planning and a few DIY projects can help those who are older continue to live independently.

There are definite benefits to staying in a longtime residence, after all. Of course, there also are added risks. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons and ways to make it work with geriatric specialist Ami Hall, DO.

Benefits of aging in place

Familiar surroundings offer comfort. That’s perhaps the simplest way to sum up the psychological, emotional and physical benefits often attached to aging in place. “Nine times out of 10, people want to stay in their home as they age,” says Dr. Hall. “That’s where they’ve spent a good part of their life and made memories. That’s where they’re more comfortable.”

Maintaining a longtime address also can help:

Preserve independence

Think of all the things you do every day as part of … well, just living and taking care of yourself. These routines serve as a heartbeat to daily life while keeping people physically and mentally active. “Being able to set and follow your own schedule can be very empowering,” says Dr. Hall.

Reduce expenses

Assisted living centers offer staff dedicated to providing care — and that comes at a cost. Bills for long-term care can quickly deplete a lifetime of savings. Aging in place can eliminate the need for that expense.

Provide consistency

If you’ve lived in your house for decades, you know every inch of the place — right down to the third step on the stairway that squeaks when you step on it. That familiarity can lessen confusion as you age. “Maintaining that continuity can be very helpful, especially for those with a cognitive impairment or memory issues,” notes Dr. Hall.

Maintain support networks

Relationships built over years of living in a community can be extremely helpful as people age. “Neighbors will help keep an eye out for each other,” states Dr. Hall.

Falls and injuries

More than 36 million falls are reported annually among the 65+ crowd in the United States.

On average, that means an older adult somewhere in the country is falling every second of every day.

Many of these falls can be traced to tripping hazards in homes. Steps and stairs also can become a danger. “As people age, they tend not to lift their feet as high when they walk,” says Dr. Hall. “Anything that’s a raised surface could cause a fall.” If an older adult is living alone, a fall could leave them injured and unable to contact anyone for help, too.

Isolation

A 2020 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine declared social isolation and loneliness as a “serious yet underappreciated” public health risk among older adults. The study found that approximately 1 in 4 older Americans could be considered socially isolated. That status increases the risk of:

Premature death, including by suicide.

Dementia.

Heart disease.

Stroke.

Depression and anxiety.

Living alone, the loss of family and friends, illness and even hearing loss can contribute to feelings of isolation, says Dr. Hall.

Safety

Older adults may be less able to handle emergency situations (like a fire), extreme weather (floods, tornadoes or snowstorms) or the loss of utilities (such as a power outage that cuts heat or air conditioning).

Home maintenance

Maintaining a home isn’t easy. Scrubbing toilets, vacuuming rooms and doing any number of never-ending chores is exhausting. (And we haven’t even mentioned heading outside for yard work.) Simply put, housework can become a burden ­— and paying people to do jobs can be expensive. “Keeping up with a house can become a real problem as people age,” Dr. Hall continues.

A home guide for aging in place

If you or someone close to you chooses to age in place, plan to make some adjustments and modifications within the home. The reality is that most folks get a bit less spry with age. Your residence should reflect that fact. Eliminating falling hazards should be a major focus of the to-do list. Dr. Hall’s checklist to make a home a safe, long-term living option for older adults also includes:

Removing rugs, which create a potential tripping hazard.

Clearing walkways and stairs of items that could cause a stumble.

Add a grab bar at the top of stairways

Keep often-used items on easy-to-reach shelves

Use bold, bright colors to provide contrast for fading vision.

Submitted by

Cleveland Clinic