A 2011 AARP report on the aging preferences of seniors found that 90% stated that they would prefer to age in place (stay in their own homes). Wow, what a surprise! Of course we want to stay in our own homes. The surroundings are familiar, our friends and family may be close by, our church home could be just blocks away. Only makes sense, right?
Not so fast. If 90% of us say we want to stay in our own homes as we age then the question is "are 90% of us SERIOUS?" If you said "yes!", here are 10 things to consider if you want to stay in your own home.
1. Home Location. Consider the location of your home. Are doctors and emergency medical facilities readily available, and basic shopping necessities close by? What would happen if your power went out, your plumbing backed up, your were snowed in, etc...? Is family close by and accessible?
2. Home Exterior. Review the terrain around your home. Is it steep or uneven? Gravel or paved? Are there slippery surfaces outside? Do you have exterior steps to enter your home? Where do you park your car? Do you have to go out in weather to access your car? Consider home maintenance. Do you have a plan for long term maintenance of your home? Do you have exterior motion sensing lighting installed?
3. Home Interior. Does your home have interior steps? Your essential rooms should be located on the first floor, i.e. bedroom, laundry, bath. Interior entrances and exits should be wide enough to accomodate medical devices or you should have the ability to widen. Your shower should have grab bars and handles and be large enough for a seat. You want to have easy access (not a tub/shower combination). Door handles in your home will be easier to manage if they are levers rather than knobs.
4. Home Furnishings. Rugs or carpets can be a trip hazard. Could they be easily removed if needed? Check out your closet. Hanging clothes bars should be within easy reach. Critically look at your bed. You should be able to place both feet firmly on the ground while seated on the edge of your bed, If you can not would it be possible to lower the height of your mattress? Can you rise easily from your sofa/chairs or are they too soft? Dining chairs should have arms to allow for stability when rising.
5. Declutter. Less is more if you want to stay in your own home. Have a yard sale, donate, go ahead and give heirlooms to your children. Reorganize your kitchen so that you can get rid of things you don't use and move things you do use to lower more accessible cabinets. Now is the time to clean out and make your life simple. Get rid of old magazines, books, and papers. Donate all old clothing that is out of style, doesn't fit now, or never did. Make your closet simple to navigate. Clean out your attic, your basement, your garage. Be ruthless in getting rid of the clutter. Your children, nieces, nephews do not want your stuff and they certainly don't want to have to manage it when you no longer can.
6. Physical Fitness. Regular exercise, proper nutrition, and ongoing medical checkups will go a long way toward keeping you healthy allowing you to stay at home as long as possible. Having a fall is the single most significant event that changes your ability to stay at home. Minimize "fall risk" by making sure that you are as strong and mobile as possible.
7. Support System. A key factor in staying at home is having support systems in place. Family, friends or services who are willing and able to assist you is key. Thinking you will tap into someone as a resource who already has established obligations is a mistake. For example, if you live near your daughter and she has children and is working as well, this is not your support system. Consider your options and develop a plan for what is feasible. Here is a BIG ONE - think transportation! If you become unable to drive what public transportation services will be available to you? Even having cab service in your area can help in a pinch.
8. Legal Documentation. Now is the time to establish your Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Last Will and Testament, and Living Will documents. These important documents need to be solidified while you are still able to make sound decisions. Your Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney should be someone you can trust. That person should be available quickly in an emergency situation. Your POA/POM may also need to be available for financial paperwork and doctor consults. Someone having to take a flight or drive for hours to be available is probably not your best choice for representation.
9. Socialization. Are you connected? Human beings require human interaction. If we stay at home but are housebound and not interacting with others our physical and mental condition declines rapidly. Review your social connections. Make sure that you are active with friends, family, church, and community. It's your most important line of offense to stay in your own home.
10. Give Back. If you want to have support and connection that allows you to live in your own home, then now is the time to provide that support to others. Review your heart to serve and ask, "What am I doing to support my friends, neighbors, family and community?" Not only will these acts of service enhance your sense of purpose and value but acts of service help you maintain the physical and mental vitality to remain at home as long as you can.
Are you serious about staying in your own home? If you are then get busy! As always I invite you to share your stories, thoughts and ideas in the comments section!
Best to you,