Americans are living longer, and the vast majority would prefer to age in their own home and community. But there are challenges and costs associated with maintaining that independence. From apps to devices and wearables, healthcare technology is helping more people age in place.
Age in Place
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines aging in place as "the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.''
When Lin’s 71-year-old husband suffered a mild stroke, they made the decision to remain in their large Tampa, Florida, home of 40 years.
“Not only does aging in place allow us to keep our current social network and expand upon it,” Lin says, “it gives us the freedom to keep our pets, host friends at home, entertain all the grandkids, and continue with what we enjoy — instead of moving to a facility and being socially isolated and lonely.”
The emotional effects of leaving one’s home or community can have serious health implications.
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that both social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality in adults ages 52 and older. Loneliness has been linked to elevated blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and mortality.
Of course, aging in place isn’t always an option, depending on the individual’s physical and mental health, treatment needs, and other circumstances.
Still, according to James J. Callahan, Jr., author of the book Aging in Place, “thousands of older people have been flowing into nursing homes unnecessarily when they can and should remain in their own home or apartment.”
Technology Meets Aging in Place
Aging in place is a lot safer now than even a decade ago due in large part to a wide range of technologies. These include apps that can analyze your home environment and recommend modifications to make it safer, voice-enabled devices that provide easy access to health information and services, and telemedicine that enables at-home patients to connect with healthcare providers.
Home Modifications Are Needed
When Bob, a 58-year-old resident of Atlanta fell off a ladder and broke his femur and wrist three years ago, he was given two choices by his doctor: undergo rehab at a facility 40 minutes away or modify his home so he could recover and live independently there.
“I’d never thought about being unable to climb up my front porch steps or two flights of stairs in our home,” Bob says. “This was a big wake-up call that I had to make modifications in order to live at home and age in place.”
What modifications are necessary depends on the senior’s home environment and physical needs. “Some [of my patients] add a first-floor bedroom and bath, while others convert the downstairs kids’ playroom or garage into a bedroom,” says Harris McIlwain, MD, a Florida-based board certified rheumatologist and geriatrician and former medical director of John Knox Village, an assisted living and rehabilitation facility.
“I remind them to add safety features, such as grab bars and a shower chair, to prevent falls, which become more frequent with aging and can lead to loss of independence,” Dr. McIlwain says.
Aging in place requires planning ahead, based on your near-term needs and knowing that they can change over time. Talk to your doctor about any health problems or concerns you have and what assistive devices and home modifications could help.