As the world's population grows, aging in place policies are swiftly becoming a growing subject of discourse amongst an ever increasing number of people. Both increased life expectancies and a rapidly expanding population have contributed to the range of challenges that a person is likely to face as they near the end of their life. Fortunately, technology and innovation have already presented several solutions to the problem of an increasingly elderly society, which has never before been observed on its current scale.
Aging in place is largely exactly what it sounds like. The Centers for Disease Control define the concept as "the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level." While for some in our society such a near-end-of-life desire is a given, for many others there are barriers to remaining in your own home past a certain age. Increased average lifespans also mean that most people face the potential of not only outliving their savings, but also their ability to function independently. Giving up control over your own day-to-day activities can be challenging for anyone, and particularly so for those who do not have support systems in place to aid them through the transition.
An entire industry is evolving around the concept of aging in place, seeking through home remodeling, technology, and managed care to make it easier for people to remain in their own homes for as long as reasonably possible. Most modern houses aren't constructed with aged individuals in mind, yet with a small number of modifications accessibility can be dramatically improved. These additions can be as simple as improved lighting or non-skid flooring on stairwells. Other options can be more difficult to install, but often dramatically improve the quality of a living space for seniors. These can include extra support in a shower or bathroom, or an added light switch at both ends of a staircase. Ramps, walk-in showers, home elevators and stairlifts are all examples of potentially costly retrofits, yet they can have an immediate and lasting affect on a person's ability to age in their own home.
Outside of home improvements, a range of new career fields are developing around home aging. Karen Totino, owner of Green Conscience, is both an occupational therapist and a Certified Aging in Place Specialist, and she is hardly alone in the field. Occupational therapists (particularly those who specialize in aging) are able to help develop strategies that will aid an elderly individual in remaining at home. By assessing the space properly and networking with contractors, these specialists are able to leverage their unique insights to pinpoint exactly the modifications required. While a single meeting with a therapist can often yield powerful results, an aging in place specialist can also be consulted over time, and will assist in evolving a strategy by focusing on low-cost adjustments at first, while gradually approaching more extensive individual needs.
In addition to local resources, a National Aging in Place Council exists, with a stated goal of becoming an individual's primary resource for information regarding home aging during retirement years. NAIPC has an established network of experts from both the private and public sectors (as well as the non-profit world) who specialize in assisting aging individuals. The organization's website, ageinplace.org, represents a wealth of information regarding the topic, including directories of service providers who can be found at the local level, as well as a growing list of chapters spread across the country.
As the global population ages, their needs will only increase, and the desire for people to remain in their homes for as long as possible while they near the end of their life isn't going to go away. As the "Baby Boomer" generation reaches seniority over the next few decades, America is set to face a unique challenge that strikes families at a basic and core level. The population of the United States that is over age 60 is set to spike from 43,043,000 individuals in 2005 to 73,769,000 in 2020. This represents a staggering 71 percent increase. The need for aging in place services looks set to only grow in the coming years, and steps are already being taken to facilitate their management.
In December 2011, the AARP Policy Institute and the National Conference of State Legislatures released a report designed to give state governments examples of how laws and policies can help foster and strengthen aging in place programs. Another model, the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), was created in the 1970s in an effort to support the needs of elderly citizens in local communities. Boasting 82 operational programs in 29 states, the PACE program provides services like therapy, counseling, and chronic care needs in order to help individuals maintain their independence in the latter part of their lives. Though the program aims to help people age in their homes, there are requirements to enroll, and seniors must live in a PACE service area in order to join.
With such a dramatic increase in senior citizen populations taking place all around us, nursing homes and other managed care environments are likely to be stretched to their individual limits of accomodation. One third of households in America are already home to an individual above the age of 60, and while some 90 percent of seniors report that they wish to remain in their homes during the final phase of their lives, this desire may not be realistic for many. For those who are capable of such an existence, however, aging in place programs can make all the difference, allowing them to maintain both their independence and dignity for as long as humanly possible.
[Images: Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain and Borya via Flickr | CC BY 2.0]
Hi! I'm Karen Totino, owner of Green Conscience Home. I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of our posts, so comment away! One of my goals is to get the community discussing some of these eco topics, and hopefully help each other out!