The prospect of leaving one’s home for life in a nursing home or assisted living facility can be incredibly difficult. Aging in place - when older adults remain in their homes and communities as they age - is becoming a popular option for America’s Baby Boomers. Here’s what you need to know as your parent(s) begin to think about how they want to spend their final years, ensuring they can stay safe, healthy, and happy in their own home.
It’s important to plan as much as possible if and when a parent expresses to you that they wish to remain in their home as they age. This can be difficult because, obviously, you cannot predict the future, but asking certain questions can help you and your parent prepare as much as possible.
What sort of help might your parent be willing to accept or want in the future? What is their living situation (alone or with a partner)? Do they need any kind of assistance right now? What sort of illnesses or diagnoses do they have that might impact their decision to stay at home?
The answers to these questions can help guide you forward in the planning process.
Bathing and other personal hygiene needs are essential to the quality of life for an aging individual. Is your parent able to perform these tasks themselves or do they need help? Would you be willing to help them with these, or would you and your parent be more comfortable working with a professional caregiver or nurse aid?
Innovations like grocery pick-up and delivery, as well as personal shopper services, have become much more ubiquitous and affordable in recent years. If your parent wants to age at home and eventually no longer drives or otherwise becomes homebound, these services are also an easy and convenient way for them to still access fresh groceries and all their other household supplies.
Keeping their house clean is another topic for discussion. They may be able to handle cleaning for now, but in the future, they may need to consider hiring someone to assist them with it. Some housekeepers will also help with things like laundry and linens, which are chores that can become cumbersome as your parent ages.
You’ll want to make sure that your parent is still eating nutritious meals even when they’re eating alone. If they’re not a great cook or aren’t able to cook for themselves anymore, fear not! There are lots of options.
Meals on Wheels is a free meal delivery service that provides a hot, nutritious mid-day meal. While there’s no cost to receive the service, recipients can choose to make a donation, if they’re able. Not only will your parent receive a lunchtime meal, but they’ll also benefit from the social aspect of regular interaction with the staff and volunteers who deliver the meals.
If your parent is still able to cook but would like it to be easier, you might consider a meal delivery service. These subscription services are typically shipped weekly and come with all the pre-portioned ingredients and instructions they’ll need to make quick-and-easy dinners. Some meal delivery services even offer completely prepared meals that simply need to be heated. Most of these services also offer options for special dietary needs like dairy- or gluten-free or a meal for diabetics or those with heart disease.
Another option is that your parent could plan on dining out occasionally. These opportunities can be a great way for them to spend time with friends or family or meet up with a group or club they’re a part of. In particular, breakfast and lunch are generally less expensive meals and offer a great opportunity for socializing.
Finally, if your parent is receiving any kind of in-home care assistance, check with that provider. Many offer meal-preparation services, too.
It’s essential to ensure that your parent’s finances remain well-stewarded as they age. While they may prefer to take care of bills and payments manually by writing checks or dropping payments in the mail, now might be a great time to encourage them to become familiar with their digital banking and auto bill-pay options. These methods are secure and convenient and will help them access the information about their banking and bills easily and quickly.
A parent aging in place is all about being able to stay in their current home. So, take some time to assess what their housing costs/needs will be in the years to come. If their mortgage is paid off, they will only have to worry about paying taxes each year. If they still have mortgage payments, make sure there’s a plan for continuing to make them.
The more complex side of finances - retirement, Social Security, and other savings - will require multiple conversations over time. It might be smart to partner with a financial advisor or speak to someone at your parent’s financial institution.
One thing that can ensure you’re able to help your parents manage their finances when they become unable to do so is a financial power of attorney (POA). The POA will give you the legal authority to act on behalf of your parent without delay or obstacle in case of an emergency. They will need to talk with an attorney to write this document, and keep in mind that the POA expires upon death.
Something to be cautious of: older adults can be more susceptible to financial fraud and money scams. Help your parents avoid fraud by reminding them about basic Internet safety, and that includes being cautious when clicking links in emails. They should also be careful about sharing personal information over the phone or via email or text. Make sure they, or you, are reviewing bills to ensure there are no fraudulent charges or inconsistencies.
If your parent suspects fraud or is a victim of fraud, the first thing they should do is report it to their financial institution, or the company where they believe they’re experiencing fraud. They need to find out what the next steps are for recovering any funds lost or limiting the exposure of fraud they experience.
If they're a victim of identity theft, they should report it to identitytheft.gov. There are multiple steps you need to take when you fall victim to ID theft, and that website gives you streamlined checklists and letters to help you through the difficult time.
As your parent ages, they may start to get forgetful, or need help keeping medications or appointment information organized.
It’s common for older adults to have someone accompany them to the doctor so that person can assist with remembering what questions to ask, recalling symptoms, and remembering next steps and treatment plans.
For medication, a pill organizer is helpful. These can be as simple as one compartment for each day, or broken into morning, mid-day, and evening medication compartments. Ask the pharmacy if they offer PillPack service that organizes medications for you.
If your parent is in a healthcare facility for a procedure, they will likely have access to a social worker. This person can help you and your parent navigate the often-complicated world of continued care and health insurance/Medicare.
Your parent’s ability to get around easily and safely will depend a lot on two things: their physical mobility/strength and if they drive or not. And, these statuses can change over time, so it’s likely you’ll need to revisit this topic with them.
In the future, your parents will likely lose some of their mobility. Thankfully, there are many devices that help keep them moving such as walkers, wheelchairs, scooters, lift chairs, and more. Sometimes these devices are covered by Medicare. Check your parent’s coverage to see what they qualify for.
For transportation, there are companies that specialize in helping get seniors to medical appointments. If your town has a public transportation system, it’s likely they have dedicated transportation for the elderly or those with special physical needs. If your parent is receiving in-home care from an aid, they may also be able to help with transportation.
Socialization is vital part of well-being as we grow older. It can help improve memory and longevity of life as well as reduce stress and isolation. If your parent, at any point, ends up living alone, staying connected to others is an important part of helping them thrive.
Whether they attend a local church group, are a part of a club, volunteer at the local library, or enjoy activities like fishing, golfing, or exercise, you’ll want to make sure your parent remains social for as long as possible!
Making sure their home is safe will enable your parent to fulfill their wish of aging in place. Take into consideration any modifications or renovations the home might need immediately or in the future to be a safe living space for an elderly person. Perhaps the tub will need to be converted to a walk-in shower with handles, or a ramp to the front door will have to be installed. They may need an electric chair lift for the stairs if any of their living spaces are on a higher floor. There are lots of potential adaptations that the home may need, over time.
Additionally, it may be worth it to invest in a wearable alert system. The device is worn 24/7 and has both manual and automatic alert capabilities that will respond to falls or other calls for help. Even certain smart watches now have fall alert technology built into them. These tools can be a lifesaver for an elderly person who lives alone. If their phone has a contacts section, be sure to include an ICE number – In Case of Emergency. EMTs and other first responders know to look for this number when they arrive on scene.
Finally, your parent should invest in a medical ID bracelet or necklace, especially if they live alone. This will aid any first responders who may need vital medical information in an emergency.
One of the best local resources for preparing to age in place is with your local Area Agency on Aging. Healthcare providers may also be able to provide connective resources or guidance. If your parent belongs to a religious group, their local clergy should be able to provide info about any senior services they may offer.
Talk with your local Social Security office to see what kind of resources they have available. If your parent is a veteran, it’s likely they will qualify for some services through the VA, as well. Also, longtermcare.gov is a resource from the Administration for Community Living and can be a good place to start.
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