Wisdom isn’t the only thing that comes with age. There’s also the question of accommodations. Like it or not, many of us eventually reach a point where we can no longer care for ourselves the way we used to.
It falls to family, friends, and loved ones to figure out the best way forward—though, more often than not, that involves aging in place.
It’s hardly a secret that most people don’t want to be placed in an assisted living facility. According to a study released in 2021 by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 77% of adults want to remain in their homes for as long as possible. Outside of exceptional circumstances, we strongly recommend that they’re allowed to do so.
The benefits of aging in place are well-documented, ranging from improved emotional and psychological well-being to better physical health. Consequently, assisted living facilities are often associated with worse health outcomes. With that in mind, here are five ways aging in place improves a senior’s quality of life.
Most people spend the majority of their lives working—dancing to someone else’s tune and operating on someone else’s schedule. Retirement is a chance to ditch the rat race and explore life on our own terms. An assisted living facility does not allow for this level of independence and self-determination, requiring that residents adhere to a group schedule and giving them minimal ability to customize their living space.
On the other hand, when a senior ages in place, they retain both their freedom and independence. Even with a live-in caregiver, a senior who grows old in their own home sets their schedule and controls their living situation. They’re fully within their rights if they want to rearrange their living room, paint their walls, or remodel a bathroom.
Particularly when one starts to feel as though their body is failing them, that sense of control goes a long way towards creating feelings of empowerment while preserving a sense of dignity.
There are Proven Psychological Benefits
“With policy, theory, and empirical evidence pointing in apparently similar directions, it has become difficult to challenge the position that aging in place in one’s home could be anything but a desirable outcome,” reads a piece published in the Journal of Aging Studies.
The majority of research on the topic largely agrees with this assessment. While diet and lifestyle play a significant role in staving off the effects of cognitive decline, regular mental stimulation and social interaction also play their part. Though one might argue that both of these are possible in an assisted living facility, the reality is that it’s not the socialization itself that genuinely has an impact.
It’s engagement with your own personal support network. While seniors can certainly socialize with other people at an assisted living facility, they’re nevertheless separated from friends and family. As it turns out, the stress of that situation can potentially speed up one’s rate of cognitive decline.
Consequently, the majority of scientific literature suggests that the ability to freely interact with a support network of one’s choosing is largely beneficial to cognitive function. Support networks aside, additional research demonstrates that familiar environments enhance object recognition and spatial memory in adults, providing an additional shield against the loss of cognitive function. The capacity to control one’s routines and choose the most mentally-stimulating activities available to oneself is also quite beneficial and likelier to contribute to an optimistic worldview.
That’s more important than you’d think. Per a study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s (NCBI) National Library of Medicine, optimism can have a positive impact on both mental health and physical health.
Finally, there’s the matter of loneliness and social isolation, two related problems many of us have become uncomfortably familiar with over the past several years. Severe loneliness, as it turns out, is a major predictor of premature mortality. This may seem confusing at first—why would a care home be lonely or isolating?
Aren’t residents surrounded by multiple other people?
Yes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t lonely. It’s entirely possible to feel lonely or isolated even in a crowd, particularly if you don’t have any emotional connection with the people around you. Add in that a senior who’s been removed from their home and placed in a care facility is likely to feel particularly emotionally raw, and you have a perfect recipe for feelings of isolation.
Your Loved One Enjoys A Safer, Healthier Environment
Many assisted living facilities are completely safe. Unfortunately, there are also many that are anything but. It’s often difficult—if not impossible—to tell the difference between the two without active observation.
To make matters worse, evidence suggests that abusive environments in care homes may be more common than non-abusive environments. In a recent survey by the World Health Organization, for instance, two-thirds of assisted living staff admitted to abusing residents. Although the WHO does acknowledge this as at least partially attributable to COVID-19—which saw a spike in abuse rates—it’s an incredibly alarming number nevertheless.
Speaking of the pandemic, physical illness is also a significant risk. Nursing homes tend to provide an ideal environment for infectious disease outbreaks, with multiple immunocompromised and vulnerable individuals living in close proximity to one another. The risks are especially pronounced in more crowded facilities, where residents may share bedrooms and bathrooms due to space limitations.
One need only look at the toll taken by the pandemic on many care homes for evidence. As of February 2022, over 200,000 residents and staff in long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19.
“Nursing home residents have experienced the brunt of the COVID-19 epidemic,” reads a research brief published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). “Recent estimates suggest that nursing home residents comprise approximately 35% of COVID-19 deaths in the US and between 66% and 81% of deaths in Canada. Compared with community-dwelling older adults, nursing home residents are five times more likely to die of COVID-19.”
The dangers of abusive staff and illness aside, leaving home is also very frequently associated with feelings of homesickness, which contribute heavily to stress and depression, both of which have a proven connection with cognitive decline. If a senior has been moved to a care home against their wishes, these stressors may be even further exacerbated with feelings of bitterness, betrayal, and resentment.
“We know that in the short term, stressful events can cause a deficit in cognitive function. As the brain puts its resources towards fight or flight, there are less resources available for higher executive functioning and cognition,” Harvard Medical School, Professor of Psychology Kerry J. Ressler told Discover Magazine. “A lot of preclinical and animal data does show that chronic stress decreases functioning and neural connectivity in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, and this would be consistent with a causal link to cognitive decline.”
It’s (Usually) Cost-Effective
As a general rule, a long-term care facility tends to be more expensive than aging in place, and you should be wary of any facility that costs considerably less. There are a few reasons for this.
First and foremost, home care services tend to cost significantly less than nursing homes, as even a mid-range facility may require upwards of several thousand dollars a month in fees. And that’s without getting into the other costs typically associated with aging, such as transportation, medication, and specialized treatments. Making matters worse is the fact that, depending on where you’re situated, health insurance may not cover assisted living facilities.
Aging in place is also considerably more convenient than aging at a care facility. As we stated earlier, the senior has a great deal more control over their environment than they would otherwise. In some cases, they may even decide to pass the time by working, potentially covering some of the costs of their care.
Lastly, in-home elder care is typically covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) in addition to the following:
- Veterans Benefits/Veteran’s Aid Pension.
- Specific Long-Term Care Assistance Plans.
- Life Insurance.
- Reverse Mortgages.
Taken together, this all results in considerable savings compared to what a care home would cost. Most of the time, at least. It’s important to note that the cost of in-home care is not static but instead depends on multiple interrelated factors.
First and foremost, there’s the nature of your needs—specifically the level of healthcare expertise required in your caregiver.
Companion caregivers, for instance, do not typically possess any medical knowledge, instead providing services such as cleaning and transportation. Personal care aids, meanwhile, have all the same responsibilities as companion caregivers while also helping with eating and hygiene. Finally, home healthcare aides are medically trained and capable of administering medication and providing a wide range of health services.
The cost of in-home care also varies between states. Factoring in all of the above, you might find yourself paying anything from $1,000 a month to over $17,000. Meanwhile, the average cost of an assisted living facility averages $4,300.
It’s ultimately up to you which you deem more economical, but our advice is to always lean towards aging in place.
While higher-end care facilities can offer a great deal of comfort and a wide range of amenities, for many people, nothing beats being able to stay in their own home. Aging in place makes it far easier to establish and maintain social relationships with friends and neighbors while allowing a senior to spend considerably more time with their family. Moreover, as we already mentioned, staying at home affords a senior the opportunity to engage in hobbies that might become inaccessible to them in an assisted living facility.
A wide range of products also exists to make a senior’s home more comfortable or suitable to their unique needs, including chair lifts, smart devices, and custom dumbwaiters. The most important thing here is that the senior can choose which devices to implement. They’re free to select or ignore renovation projects or home additions as they see fit, and there’s no one to dictate what they can or cannot do.
To put it another way—would you rather spend a month in an unknown setting surrounded by unfamiliar people, or a month in a home you’ve spent years making your own?
The Right Place to Age
Aging in place isn’t for everyone. There will always be certain scenarios where an assisted living facility represents the better choice. With that said, if it is feasible to allow a loved one to remain home as they age, we strongly recommend doing so.
Your loved one will be happier, healthier, more comfortable, and more independent. They’ll be closer to their loved ones and be able to retain a sense of dignity. And all of these factors might be what they need to stave off cognitive decline and live a truly fulfilling life as they progress into their August years.