Consider this scenario: An elderly widow, now approaching 98 years of age, lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment. Despite being hard of hearing, suffering from an increasing loss of short-term memory and depending on supplemental oxygen, she is otherwise in remarkably good health. Fiercely independent, she insists on continuing to live by herself. She can still handle the basic tasks of daily living. Her daughter, who lives nearby, visits regularly to walk her dog, buy groceries, provide socialization and more. Only recently has the widow accepted weekly visits from a home health aide. She is adamant about living independently and resists the notion of entering an assisted living facility.
This type of situation is real. It is playing out all across the nation when older people choose to "age in place." As I wrote in a previous post, according to The Center for Aging in Place, "Aging in Place is a national movement to enable people to stay in their own homes as they grow older by making available the social support, health care, and home maintenance services they require to live happy, productive lives in the community."
In theory, aging in place is a noble concept. In practice, maybe it isn't so great. In the scenario above, the independence the elderly woman perceives she has is simulated. She is housebound, feeble (she has already fallen twice) and largely dependent on her daughter or a caregiver. It is just a matter of time before she will need daily care in her home if she remains there. Entering an assisted living facility may appear to be a more suitable alternative, but such facilities have their shortcomings, which might include high cost and low quality of care.
Many in the Boomer generation seem to embrace the idea of aging in place, but we have to distinguish desire from practicality. “The vast majority of people want to stay in their homes as they age, and most homes in this country aren’t designed to allow that to happen,” Dr. Rodney Harrell, AARP's VP for Family, Home and Community, tells The New York Times. The Times reports that "AARP recently introduced HomeFit, a free augmented reality app on iOS that can scan a room and suggest improvements to help turn a house into a 'lifelong home,' free from safety and mobility risks. It is an extension of the organization’s extensive HomeFit Guide, which is available online."
Apps and guides are all well and good, but they may obscure the real question: How wise it for an elderly person to age in place? Safety appears to be a key concern: According to The Times, "The website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that for adults 65 years and older, $50 billion is spent annually on medical costs related to nonfatal fall injuries and $754 million is spent related to fatal falls."
The patchwork solutions we currently have in our society for aging in place are less than adequate. If we Boomers choose to age in place, we will likely need to make some significant changes to be able to remain in our "Home Sweet Home."