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Aging well at home

Considerations for aging at home versus moving to assisted living facilities are many, says health columnist.
aging-at-home
Is society prepared for seniors to 'age in place', in their own home and community? Photo supplied.

 

It’s been said parents should be nice to their children. “After all, they are going to choose your nursing home.” So, it is punishment or reward when children choose to help their parents stay living in their own homes?

Some lifestyle choices are clear as night and day. Don’t smoke. Do exercise. Don’t lose sleep. Do eat a nutritious diet. But there is no clear answer to the question of where it is best to live out the senior years of life, with significant consequences for everyone in the family.

Factors affecting the decision are plentiful. Healthcare needs and cost of care. Housing suitability and safety considerations. Family location and friend groups. Availability of transportation and other services. And there’s no mistaking that as one gets older, these factors change in unpredictable ways.

As important as these issues are, another factor might be even more crucial. Attitude plays a vital role in happiness, good health and longevity. A positive attitude has been linked in many studies with improved measures of well-being.

A fascinating study conducted 20 years ago by Yale University researchers found older individuals with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions.

Findings like this offer a strong rationale for a positive mindset. But happy thoughts only go so far when a decision to age at home bumps up against the common, everyday challenges of a world designed for younger people.

In the home, being able to open a tin can or a bottle of wine makes the difference between having a good meal and enduring a frustrating barrier to it. Taking out the trash, doing the laundry, or keeping up with home maintenance are significant challenges for people with precarious mobility.

Technology’s innovations and solutions have worked wonders for society, but not always for seniors seeking to maintain their independence. The failures of technology to serve the interests of seniors are observable, for example, outside urban concert venues that attract young and old alike. When the event is over and crowds emerge onto the streets, the young jump into waiting Ubers while seniors search for rare taxis or struggle in the dark and cold to put on their glasses so that they can puzzle with their phones to arrange a ride. It’s a rare young person who stops to help, let alone notices the problem.

How will today’s society be judged in the future? On the surface, it appears our eldest citizens are not always the recipients of the care and respect we claim they deserve.

The influential baby boomer generation has an opportunity to change things for the elderly. The oldest boomers are now pushing into the second half of their 70s. They are goal-oriented and accustomed to getting things their way. It’s reasonable to anticipate that they will demand enhancements in lifestyle options for their senior years, whether at home or in assisted group residences, which no doubt they will rebrand.

But until they do, the realities of senior living are still big challenges for most. For those seeking to stay at home, there are more services today than in the past, from food delivery to in-home healthcare and personal support. The question remains whether institutional settings have learned how to protect health while also promoting it.

Has the pandemic ignited new thinking among children about helping their aging parents stay at home? So it seems. Occupancy rates in assisted living facilities are down and “aging in place” is a top trend in senior housing.

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