International Policy Digest

Health /16 Dec 2019
12.16.19

With the Costs of Senior Services Soaring, Will ‘Aging in Place’ Be the Future of America’s Elderly?

Your home is your castle, and if you’re like many of today’s Baby Boomers, you prefer to remain in it rather than move to an assisted living facility. For some, where they live is not a matter of preference, but rather, pragmatics. It costs a pretty penny to move into a care home, and many of today’s seniors can’t afford to do so.

As the cost of 24/7 care continues to soar, many senior Americans find that “aging in place” is more desirable. While you might share the opinion that remaining in your home is preferable to moving on, safety considerations prove paramount. Many accidents occur at home, and the injuries that result can rob much of the joy from one’s golden years.

Will the “aging” in place trend continue? If so, what actions can seniors and society take to protect those who opt to remain on the family homestead?

The Rising Costs of Assisted Living

Many people use the terms “assisted living facility” and “nursing home” synonymously, but the two words have different meanings. Assisted living facilities offer various levels of care. Some residents receive aids such as medication reminders and the knowledge that someone is a button away if they need help. Other residents may participate in physical therapy or receive help in administering injections. Medicare does not cover the cost of assisted living facilities.

Nursing homes, conversely, offer 24/7 medical care. They’re more comfortable than a hospital, but more closely monitored than assisted living residents. Medicare will pay for a short-term stay of 100 days in such a facility if a doctor deems it medically necessary. After that, the resident must self-pay or find another housing option. They may receive help from Medicaid, but only if they qualify. If they have any assets other than the family home, they must sell them to receive this help — a prospect many seniors find intolerable.

The median cost for an assisted living facility weighs in at $4,000 per month in the United States. If you live on social security alone, that far exceeds your monthly income. Even those seniors who put aside a sizeable retirement fund can find themselves staring at the prospect of the well running dry before they pass. For such individuals, selling the family home and moving to a facility presents a risk. If they run out of savings, where will they go? Many decide it’s safer to remain at home than risk severe economic hardship during some of their most vulnerable years.

Supporting Seniors Who Remain at Home

The biggest impacts will come from improvements we can make to our government and healthcare system. If aging in place is indeed the wave of the future, we need to find ways to get more people to enter the home health care field. Currently, burnout levels remain high among home health care aides, and for understandable reasons. Organizations can support their workers by caring for their wellbeing. They can expand phone support services so that aides don’t feel left alone when they encounter a problem with a client in the field.

Business leaders can support aging in place by expanding paid leave programs to employees to care for aging family members. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, those employers who surpass 50 employees must offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave. However, a large percentage of Americans now live paycheck to paycheck. Providing even a handful of additional paid days off can ease the burden on those caring for parents and other relatives at home.

Finally, until policy and public engagement with this topic improve, seniors and their families can take various precautions to set up a safe space to “age in place.” For example, many accidents occur in the bathroom, so seniors can install grab bars on their toilets and showers. Standard models can support up to 250 pounds.

People with arthritis can find manipulating objects difficult. Instead of a traditional doorknob, door levers may be the better choice for those with arthritis since they move up and down instead of requiring you to twist, making the move easier on sore wrists.

Many older adults suffer from age-related macular degeneration, but even if you don’t, you might find it harder to see in dim light. Swapping out typical light switches for dimmer versions can help. This allows you to turn the light up when you need it brighter or dim it down for those relaxing evenings at home.

Aging in Place May Represent the Future of Aging in America

Aging in place may represent the future of aging. The arrangement offers many advantages, including the preference of the individual, often. However, these older adults will need support and safety measures to ensure their continued wellbeing.