According to an AARP study, some 90 percent of seniors plan to age in place for at least five years, and 85 percent believe they can do so without major lifestyle modifications.
For adult children, a parent’s decision to age in place is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the mental and physical health benefits of remaining in one’s longtime home are impossible to overstate. On the other, aging gracefully in a home — and, often, a neighborhood or community — built for able-bodied adults presents a host of evolving challenges, not all of which are easy to anticipate.
If you’re serious about helping your parents age in place, you need to prepare for what at times may be an unpredictable ride. These five tips can help.
1. Understand Your Parent’s Needs — And How They’re Likely to Change
Aging is an unpredictable process that doesn’t always move in a straight line. That your parent or parents is/are doing just fine in their home today doesn’t guarantee that they’ll do just fine in their home five or seven years hence. Start by level-setting their present-day needs, then research common aging tracks and map those against your family’s own genetic profile and lived experience.
2. Set Up a Medical Alert System
As people age, falls and other medical emergencies become more likely. If you haven’t already done so, set up a medical alert system in your parent’s home, preferably with a direct connection to local first responders. Consult medical alert system reviews for details about system features, reliability, and pricing.
3. Make Pro-Accessibility Changes
Nothing you can do to an existing home will completely eliminate fall risk, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t make any pro-accessibility changes at all. Relatively straightforward measures like access ramps at outdoor entrances, “step up” signs on thresholds, pro-accessibility bath retrofits, and easy-reach shelves can all help.
4. Visit Regularly — and Check in on Your Parent’s Networks
Don’t be a stranger. If you live nearby, check in regularly at your parent’s home — every week, or even more frequently, if possible. Otherwise, retain a relative or close friend to do the same. Make sure your parent continues to socialize; the emotional benefits of this can’t be overstated.
5. Evaluate More Drastic Options When Needed
Know when it’s time to evaluate more drastic options. If your parent has worsening cognitive impairment, watch carefully and stick to your pre-determined threshold for initiating round-the-clock care or pursuing re-homing. If their physical condition worsens to the point that they can’t easily climb stairs, know in advance which downstairs room you’ll turn into a bedroom. Pay close attention to your parent’s driving habits and know when it’s time to (gently) suggest they get hang up the keys.
They Belong at Home
There’s a strong argument to be made that your aging parent or parents belong at home, even as day to day life grows more difficult. While these tips represent a good start, they’re not the only things you’ll need to keep in mind as your parent’s needs change. Don’t lose sight of other must-dos, from estate planning items like setting up power of attorney and creating an advance medical directive to rolling efforts to downsize an entire life’s worth of accumulated possessions. You’ve got this.