The decision to age in place or enter a care facility is a deeply personal one, and a decision most seniors would prefer not to make. Unfortunately, a lack of preparation leads many elderly people to end up in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or continuing care retirement home when they become ill or injured. However, with some planning, many seniors can remain in their homes and enjoy the multitude of benefits that aging in place can bring.
The cost of living in a nursing home is high and rising. In 2013, a private room averaged $1,995 per month, or more than $23,000 annually; if you are in a larger city such as Ontario, you can expect to pay a minimum of $1,819.53 per month (for basic accommodation), or close to $22,000 annually (based on rates as of July 2017). The current ceiling cost for a private bed in a newer long-term care home is $2,599.11 per month or close to $32,000.00 per year. Pair the cost with the fact that seniors now outnumber children, and the reality is that demand increasing at a much larger rate than supply. With some seniors remaining on waiting lists for years or more, the option to age in place becomes one that should be seriously considered in order to provide seniors with the immediate care they need.
Staying independent is a big motivator for many seniors who wish to age in place. A senior who is accustomed to following her own schedule may experience significant emotional blowback when forced into the regimented meal times and social activities of a care facility. Maintaining a sense of autonomy can keep the elderly active and energized well into their twilight years.
Seniors who have to move into a care facility must part with most of their possessions in order to adapt to a smaller living space. This can be upsetting for older people who have spent many years in their home, and may disorient seniors experiencing cognitive decline.
One of the greatest benefits of aging in place is being able to stay in a beloved community. Social isolation is one of the biggest threats to senior well-being, and has been correlated with depression, cognitive decline, and repeated hospitalizations. When senior citizens age within their community, they retain access to existing social networks and support systems.
Aging at home also means that seniors are free to have visitors at their own discretion. Care facilities, on the other hand, often limit the hours that residents can have visitors as well as how long visitors can stay.
Pets offer valuable companionship to seniors, especially those who live alone, as they help keep them active and can even reduce depression. While some assisted living and continuing care retirement communities may allow small pets, most nursing homes do not. Having to part with a cherished pet can be emotionally devastating for older people and contribute to isolation and depression.
Care facilities inevitably expose seniors to germs and illnesses not encountered at home. And since immune systems weaken with age, the elderly are more likely to face permanent disability or death from an infection or illness. While care facilities have on-site staff to deal with sickness, staff members may not necessarily be licensed nurses, and low staffing levels can lead to inadequate care. When a senior ages in place, home health aides can be brought into the home to provide one-on-one assistance in times of illness or disability.
While aging comes with a number of challenges, losing independence doesn’t have to be one of them. Many nursing home residents could be aging in place if only they had adequate supports at home and in the community. With proper planning, an accessible home, and health and social support networks, seniors can stay safe and comfortable in their homes longer than ever.
Marie Villeza is passionate about connecting seniors with the resources they need to live happy, healthy lives. So she developed ElderImpact to provide seniors and their caregivers with resources and advice.