The baby boom at the end of World War II created a population explosion in the United States. Many of those “baby boomers” began turning 65 in 2011. As a result, the U.S. population of people aged 65 and over is projected to be 83.7 million by 2050 (almost double 2012’s census estimate of 43.1 million).
More seniors means more care solutions are needed to help our parents and the other seniors in our lives age with dignity, comfort and joy. Many seniors state that they plan to “age in place,” with approximately 90 percent intending to continue living in their current homes for the next five to 10 years. As family members and caregivers, we have to balance their desires with our own concerns for their safety and well-being. Here are the four most important considerations to keep in mind as you work to support your parent in their desire to stay at home as they age.
1. Plan Early
Don’t wait to start talking with your parents about what they would like their future living situation to look like. “Start the dialogue while they’re still able to make choices rather than during crisis,” says Carol Bradley Bursack, author of “Minding Our Elders.” She emphasizes maintaining respect for their choices and avoiding falling into the trap of treating them like children — they will always be your parents.
It’s also important to remember that a decision made today might need to be re-made tomorrow as situations for elders shift rapidly with both physical and mental changes. According to a Pew Research study, “About one-in-four adults ages 65 and older report experiencing memory loss.” When it comes to memory care, Melissa Tucker of the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter adds, “It’s important to speak with an elder law attorney for advice on long-term care and future planning.”
2. Get Outside Help/A Break for the Caregiver
Often elders are resistant to having others in their home. Other times it’s the caregiver who’s reluctant to get help. Bursack says, “Lose the obsession that only you can provide what your parent needs. Another caregiver may not do it exactly as you would but getting away will allow you to come back to it better.” Tucker adds, “Being home alone with a solitary caregiver isn’t healthy for the senior or the caregiver. One way to frame it is to start with housekeeping or meals a few times a week. Then maybe later add help with personal care like bathing and dressing.”
With the increase in packaged meal and grocery delivery services, providing meal assistance is an easy way to begin offering assistance to seniors. According to Debi Genthe with Meals at Home, 50 percent of seniors are malnourished. She says, “Even seniors who have access to food at home sometimes forget to eat or can’t physically prepare a meal.” Another advantage of meal deliveries is the development of relationships with those outside the home. Genthe says that the first thing clients say is that they love having someone knock on their door; those types of visits can become important to a solitary senior. For caregivers, they provide another set of eyes and ears.
Another common need for seniors is transportation. Getting to and from doctor appointments, pharmacies and grocery stores can become difficult once seniors give up driving. When local family and friends aren’t available, Medicaid will cover non-emergency medical transportation (i.e., regular doctor visits) but Medicare will only cover emergency medical trips. For all of the other places seniors need to go, there are lots of options from public transportation and paratransit (more convenient door-to-door public transport option) to taxis, Uber and Lyft. Budget and senior mobility will direct your choices here.
More expansive services can be found locally with providers like Broadstreet Home Care, who offer care options for everything from getting dressed to personal assistants who help with home and prescription management under nurse oversight. “Providing home care is really about creating independence for seniors by allowing them to stay in their homes for as long as possible,” says Sam Cross from Broadstreet. “Further, most seniors have underlying health conditions and preventative care will help them have better outcomes.” In other words, don’t wait to get help.
3. Make the Right Home Modifications
Eighty-five percent of seniors who plan to stay at home are confident in their abilities to do so without making significant modifications to their homes. Yet their homes may present dangers that they’re not aware of. For example, seniors are at an especially high risk for falls. Removing rugs throughout the house and putting non-skid strips in showers and baths can help. The National Institute on Aging recommends other modifications like a ramp at the front door, grab bars in the tub and shower, more comfortable handles on doors (think lever-type handles) and better insulation for senior homes. The University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology has created a website to help you determine how to create a safe home and convenient home. They provide links with information and purchasing options for everything from stair lifts to automatic toilet flushers and door openers.
The modifications you choose should be specific to your parent’s needs and as their situation changes you can make additional home adjustments to make their tasks easier and support their independent living.
4. Know When It’s Time to Move
“Never say to your parents, ‘I won’t put you in a nursing home,’” says Bradley Bursack. “Don’t make promises about the specifics of care. Just stress that you’ll do the best you can to help them get what they want.” When considering moving seniors from their home, their safety and need for interaction with others are prime concerns.
Tucker asserts that when it comes to progressive illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s, the day will come when the person will require 24-hour supervision. “The burden of care is high and when the caregivers are sacrificing their own health, it’s time to consider long-term residential care,” she says. Also in these cases, physical care needs will inevitably increase. Even when a senior is healthy and robust, they might wander and require a locked unit for their safety. It’s a big decision and the Alzheimer’s Association has a 24-hour helpline resource (800-272-3900) for caregivers to speak with a counselor for information on local resources.
- Stuff Seniors Need: A site with user-friendly information on topics like navigating Medicare, reverse mortgages, prescription drug plans, Medigap plans, formularies, etc.
- Minding Our Elders blog: Bradley Bursack’s blog with articles on senior health and caregiver care topics and tons of helpful links
- Transportation for Seniors: Two helpful articles with information on finding transportation for seniors from AgingCare.com and Daily Caring
- Illinois Department of Aging: Local resources
- Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP): A government program that matches healthy seniors as companions for those more frail or homebound who could use company
- Eldercare Locator: A government-funded database to help you find the right local care for your loved ones
More from Make It Better:
- 5 Steps to Helping an Aging Parent Who Doesn’t Want Help
- Assisted Living or Home Care? How to Help an Elderly Loved One Make the Right Choice
- For Independent Living Without Hassles, Younger Seniors Are Moving to Retirement Communities Earlier
Pamela Rothbard is a writer and photographer living in Glencoe, Illinois. Her work has appeared in various literary and mainstream magazines and on National Public Radio and her parenting and baking blog, Flour on the Floor, was featured in Better Homes and Gardens. Pamela has been a regular Make It Better contributor since 2013. When she’s not behind a keyboard or a camera, she’s trying new recipes and restaurants and adding another layer of clothing because she’s always cold. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @pamelarothbard.