Tag Archives: aging in place

Stay or move, that is the question

I was recently introduced to a resourceful website called StayorMove.org. The site focuses on what is are the most crucial questions as we grow older, such as do we stay put in our current homes or do we move on to a different location or live in an assisted living facility?

It’s questions we all should ask ourselves, but many people wait until a health issue makes the decision for them. That’s why I like the approach found on the StayorMove website, which is easy to navigate and uses a series of videos to address the pros and cons of a variety of housing options.

>>READ MORE: Can America afford to age in place?

I also appreciated the fact that growing old in a rural environment was addressed. Those who follow this blog know this is an issue that’s important to me, because my parents’ health care was compromised by living in a small town with limited medical resources. They have a series of videos on the Village movement, which seeks to connect neighbors and volunteers to help elders age in place, while valuing the contributions of elders to the community. I’d love to see this concept expand.

The videos are brief but informative, and hopefully will encourage the “stay or move” conversation to continue. The more people are educated, the better decisions they can make about their own aging and housing choices.

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Taking care of our ‘elder orphans’

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Photo: Pixabay

Now solidly middle-age and reflecting more upon my own mortality after the deaths of my parents, aging well is a top concern of mine.

Aging well means something different to everyone, but living independently with as little assistance as possible is a priority for me.  I read an article about “elder orphans,” a term used to describe older people who live alone without a support network. As our society has moved away from the nuclear family model, and more people are deciding not to have children, the number of elder orphans will likely grow dramatically over the next several decades. The author of the article believes that baby boomers will also experience an uptick of elder orphans.

Not only are modern families smaller, but members are more likely to be spread out geographically, which can complicate caregiving situations. Women, traditionally the caregivers in the family unit, have demanding careers that limit their ability to be caregivers. (Though we know there are plenty of family caregivers who work full-time and care for a loved one, which can lead to burnout.)

Some people, like my mother, become an unwilling elder orphan after their spouse dies. My mother was able to take care of herself until the last few months of her life, but she did not enjoy living alone. She missed the daily companionship and experienced loneliness living in a rural community without friends or family nearby. Yet even when she was still in good health, I couldn’t convince her to visit the community senior center.

So how can we better take care of our elder orphans? I’ve written before about aging in place and how some communities are being proactive in addressing the needs of their aging population. Infrastructure needs like housing and transportation is integral, but so are communities with residents who have an awareness and dedication to helping their elders age safely. Programs like Meals on Wheels isn’t just about receiving food, but serves as the only regular safety check that many older people living alone receive. The frigid winter weather has encouraged people to check in on their elder neighbors, and that’s something we should be doing all year long.

While we can’t predict how our own health issues will impact our hopes of aging well, we can plant the seeds now to create a safe and welcoming environment for elder orphans.

 

 

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Can America afford to age in place?

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Joe Zlomek/Freeimages

While many people, including myself, would prefer to age in place, for financially strapped communities throughout America, the trend is straining limited resources.

An article about my mother’s home state of Tennessee and its struggle to care for a rapidly growing older population is a scenario taking place in many states. Many state, county and city budgets are already overwhelmed with issues ranging from high unemployment to the opioid epidemic. I read one article that said older people calling 911 due to falls at home was straining EMS budgets. While the federal government contributes money to elder care each year via the Older Americans Act, it’s simply not enough to address the needs of a growing elder population.

In Tennessee, thousands of older people are on waiting lists for government assistance programs. The organizations do the best they can, but those cited in the article said more resources are needed, and officials are going to have to address the issue soon.

Transportation was listed as a major issue. While some older people may be physically healthy and not need in-home assistance, they may no longer be able to drive and need transportation options to maintain their quality of life and independence. This of course was an issue for my parents. Thankfully, they did have a county-funded shuttle service that they used for years. (Most county officials were against the idea of the shuttle, however. Its funding is always on the verge of being cut.)

Meal delivery was another major need. The meal delivery service also serves as a status check on the older person, so it has a dual purpose. For those in rural areas, this can be a lifeline.

In Tennessee, supporting someone staying in their home costs $3,000-$15,000 annually, while putting a person in a facility costs over $50,000 annually. You don’t have to be a math whiz to see what is the financially efficient solution. Unfortunately, the federal  government has not been proactive in addressing the issue. Tennessee reports some success at the state level, working with community organizations.

Has your community addressed aging in place issues? I’d love to hear about programs that are working in your area.

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Addressing aging issues, village by village

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Anna Wolniak/Freeimages

While the concept that “it takes a village” has become a platitude in popular culture, there are people out there actually putting the village concept to the test. I’m now following the village concept in earnest, and will be interested in seeing how it develops.

I first heard of the concept through Kay Bransford, who has the excellent Dealing with Dementia blog.  She lives in McLean, Virginia, which is home to an active village community. The village is volunteer-based, and supports the needs of its inter-generational community members, with an emphasis on the aging population and the special needs of those with disabilities.

The idea of a grassroots movement that allows one to age-in-place without heavy government involvement is intriguing. The local, community-based approach makes the most sense to me, because neighborhoods have their own individual challenges and opportunities. We also shouldn’t hold our breath that the federal government is going to address the needs of our rapidly aging population anytime soon, no matter who’s in office.

The village movement began over 15 years ago, and the Village to Village Network was established in 2010. Over 200 villages now exist in 45 states. Members help each other by looking out for one another, making sure those who need help aging in place have access to affordable, dependable services for things like home repairs and running errands. Village communities work with existing government and community agencies to address any gaps in care and resources.

I think about how much a strong village model could have helped my parents as they dealt with medical issues and aging concerns.

What do you think about the village concept?

 

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Aging in place not just about home’s interior

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The “portal to hell” aka the crawlspace where the water heater is located.

As I wrote about in my last post, caregiving can give you tunnel vision, and while I was busy tending to my mother’s every health need, I overlooked some basic household duties, like changing that darned furnace filter.

But another thing I had to deal with on my recent visit to what was my parents’ condo made me realize that aging in place is not just about retrofitting a home’s interior. When I arrived and turned on the kitchen faucet, I immediately noticed that the hot water had a very strong sulfur odor. I Googled the issue and found that it is common in cabins and other kinds of vacation rental homes, where the water sits unused for long periods of time. Basically, the water sitting in the water heater tank is an ideal incubator for bacteria, which, while harmless to humans, creates that godawful rotten eggs smell.

The simplest solution involves flushing out the water heater with bleach or hydrogen peroxide, which kills the bacteria.

As I searched for plumbers, I began to wonder, where the heck is the water heater?

By process of elimination, I figured the square door underneath and to the side of the condo must be where the water heater was located. The photo above is actually a neighbor’s unit, but it looks just like mine. What I couldn’t picture was how a water heater fit in such a small space.

When the plumber came out, the mystery was solved. The wood door had to be unscrewed with a power tool, and then the plumber, a pretty tall guy, angled his way through the portal. I stuck my head inside and saw that the crawlspace was quite large, the entire length of the two condos that are connected together. There were several discarded water heaters under there, a virtual graveyard. The plumber wanted to show me how the water heater was leaking, which required me to climb inside.

I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it; I’m not claustrophobic and am in decent shape but I am clumsy, and this was a very awkward hole to crawl through. Somehow, I managed to squeeze through without injuring myself, then was immediately concerned about how I would get back out.

The plumber told me I could flip the breaker on the water heater when I was headed out of town so I didn’t have to crawl back down there. That was another adventure, finding the circuit breaker. It was located in a storage closet outside the condo, and inexplicably placed in the back corner, meaning you had to be careful about what you stored in the closet so you could squeeze your way to the back and reach the breaker panel.

The entire debacle made me think about aging in place, and how important it is to examine the exterior and the interior of the home your aging loved ones are residing in or wish to move to, and look for red flags like this bizarre water heater setup. Take into account things like stairs, crawlspaces and anything else that is difficult for someone with limited mobility to access. Ideally, a homeowner would have convenient access to things like the furnace, the water heater, air conditioner, circuit breaker, etc. in case of emergency.

It’s definitely something I’ll think about when looking for a retirement property. No creepy “portals to Hades” for me!

 

 

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