Jane Austen wrote, “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” More and more, seniors are taking this sentiment to heart - opting to spend their golden years independently in the comfort of their own homes.
Jamie Langston, Research Officer at LifeSeasons Medical Clinic in Flower Mound, says there are many reasons individuals are choosing to age at home.
“I believe foremost it is the place we feel most safe. It is a place where our life collections remind us of where we have been and who we are. It is a place where we have built memories with our loved ones,” she says. “At home, we are comfortable, and we are familiar. I love the children’s story of Mr. Plumbean and his quote, ‘My home is me, and I am it. It is where I like to be, and it looks like all my dreams.’”
In addition to sentimental reasons, Jamie says there are many practical reasons for remaining at home.
“Some seniors like the privacy of living at home,” she says. “It is a quiet and private place to entertain loved ones. They are free from routines imposed by others and can eat and sleep when it pleases them.” Additionally, Jamie says, living at home insulates individuals from risks of illness that often accompany group living environments.
Rachael Nelson, Practice Manager and Outreach Coordinator at LifeSeasons, says, “Seniors of this generation have been extremely self-sufficient their entire lives. It is only natural to want to remain in their home surrounded by comfort and familiarity. We are creatures of habit, and our home provides an environment of safety and security.”
While independent living is a good choice for many, Jamie says there are several precautions that should be taken. She suggests that individuals:
• Have a contact list or an emergency alert system in place
• Install a home alarm system
• Have a handyman contacted to keep the home in good repair and install bathroom safety accessories, such as toilet aids, grab bars, walk-in tubs and ramps
• Install a privacy monitoring system so loved ones can watch over them
• Have adaptive living devices, such as walkers and chair lifts
• Brush up on current technology to make life safe and secure, including cell phones, medical tracking devices and automatic medication dispensing systems
• Hire a lawn maintenance service and housekeeper
• Have a dependable first-aid kit
• Get to know their neighbors
• Take a fall risk prevention class
In addition, Rachael says, “It is critical to remain socially and physically active. The worst thing for the geriatric population is not having a social network or isolating from normal activities.”
Jamie advises individuals create a schedule for waking, dressing, preparing meals, planning social events and doing things they enjoy to remain active and engaged. She said adopting a pet also can fulfill the natural need for companionship.
“Proper nutrition is important, as well,” Rachael says. “Some seniors find that online meal delivery services can be helpful to supplement their normal cooking routine, especially if they are making meals for one.” Grocery delivery services also a good choice.
Jamie says loved ones and neighbors can offer support by:
• Helping with housework
• Purging the home of expired foods and medications
• Running errands for or with their loved one
• Preparing meals for their loved ones
• Helping with money management and bill payments
• Helping with medication management
There are many systems available to assist with medications, Jamie says, including apps, alarms, home health aides, reminder notes and weekly pill boxes. “Most seniors are on five or more medications. Missed doses or mismanagement can cause serious harm,” she says.
Those choosing to independently age at home and their loved ones also should be aware of several warning signs.
“Once a senior begins to experience trouble with everyday activities like shopping, cooking, housekeeping and personal care, it is time for them and their loved ones to address the concerns of living alone,” Jamie says. “While friends and family members may want to help, they do not always have the time or ability to provide adequate care. It can take hours every day as a loved one’s needs increase.”
Though it is natural for seniors’ needs to increase over time, they often do not convey this to loved ones.
“I often hear seniors and even my own family members state, ‘I do not want to be a burden,’” Rachael says. “Recognizing the signs and staying involved with our family and friends is important.”
Jamie says some of the signs that may indicate independent living no longer is the best option include:
• Social isolation
• Inability to maintain home repairs; laundry and trash build up
• Poor nutrition or malnutrition; weight loss
• Repeated falls
• Poor eyesight or hearing
• Inability to remember appointments, open mail, answer the phone or take medications
• Repeated urinary track infections, which often is the first sign of poor hydration
• A decline in personal appearance or hygiene
• The inability to remember family members, friends or neighbors
• Frequently getting lost in familiar places
• Continuous complaining of malaise or exhaustion
If the time comes to consider communal living options, Jamie says there are several from which to choose:
• Independent senior living communities that provide well-maintained homes designed for active seniors.
• Assisted living residences that provide personal care services, which may include meal preparation and assistance with bathing, dressing and taking medications
• Skilled nursing or extended-care facilities that provide full medical care with nurses and other health professionals onsite 24 hours a day.
• Continuing care retirement communities, which have all three communities on one large campus. Residents may start in independent living, move to assisted living and then full-time extended care without leaving the same campus.
• Memory care/Dementia Facilities, which specialize in care for those with cognitive impairments.
• Group Homes, which giveseniors an opportunity to live among a family of peers while receiving the benefits of medication management, meal preparation, house cleaning and laundry. These homes have 24/7 onsite caregivers who provide onsite and offsite activities.
She said many seniors find communal living their best option. In addition to the routine, activities and social interaction, she says, “There is also a sense of safety in this setting. So many fear that they will not be able to get help if something happens. They also like the idea of being checked on throughout the day and not having to worry about meals, eating alone and when to take their medications. They like the idea of having someone make sure their clothes are clean and their living space is clean and comfortable.”
Jamie and Rachael have a combined 40 years of experience in caring for seniors. LifeSeasons Medical Clinic is an integrative and functional medicine practice serving patients who are looking for a more personalized approach to health care. For more information about LifeSeasons, visit LifeSeasonsMedical.com.