To remain comfortably independent at home as they age is the goal for many seniors, and an inportant part of estate planning. For some, such as those who need constant medical supervision, it is sadly not possible. For others, planning ahead can help extend the time seniors are able to be independent -potentially indefinitely. The National Institute on Aging calls it "aging in place".
One of the most important things to do to safely remain in your home as you age is to plan before you think you need help - and keep reviewing the plan to make sure it still works. Here are some things you'll want to consider.
AARP's home safety checklist is a great place to start your assessment. A licensed occupational therapist can also provide a safety assessment for you. It's also important to consider how you will manage home/property maintenance as you age. Putting measures in place for things like snow removal, lawn care, and gutter cleanings before they become physically daunting or dangerous will help to keep seniors safe. Some seniors opt to live in "adult" communities in later life. Many of these 55+ communities have stand-alone homes or duplex style units with a built in monthly fee for outside maintenance.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 25% of seniors over the age of 65 experience a fall of some kind each year. In fact, falls are the most common cause of injury - including fatal injury - for seniors. By 2020, falls among seniors are expected to cause $67.7 Billion in medical costs annually. Suggestions for removing trip/fall hazards and practicing preventative measures include:
- Keep hallways, stairs and floors clear.
- Make sure electrical cords are not laying across walkways.
- Remove or secure small throw rugs and doormats.
- Always use handrails on stairways.
- Equip stairs with non-slip treads.
- Consider grab bars in the shower/bath and beside the toilet.
- Install non-slip adhesive or use non-slip mats in the bath and shower.
- Consider installing a walk-in safety tub.
- Avoid walking in "stocking feet", instead always wear shoes, even around the house.
As we detailed in a previous blog about Long-Term care costs, the bills can really add up! In fact, Massachusetts is the number two most expensive state in the nation for long term care, second only to Alaska. Advance planning for long-term care before it becomes necessary can positively impact the quality of plans that you may qualify for.
Medical Needs & Decisions
While some medical issues certainly cannot be predicted, an assessment of your likely future health is an important consideration. It's never too soon to determine who will be responsible for your healthcare decisions if you cannot. Attorney Dowling's blog on choosing a healthcare proxy is a great place to start.
You may be perfectly independent now, but if you are already experiencing some of the health issues that often accompany the aging process, assessing what the possible progressions of those challenges could be, might be a good way to start planning.
Social Contact & Lifestyle
While safety and health are of extreme importance, quality of life counts a lot! Think about how you want to spend your golden years. Is your current community conducive to your desired senior life-style? There are a multitude of reasons seniors choose to relocate. It's not always just about the weather. Some people want to be closer to family or grandchildren, others want to walk the beach, garden, play bingo, or golf. Maybe you want to be in a community where you can walk to wherever you need to go? All of the above might be your style - the possibilities are as varied as the population. Investigating what activities are feasibly accessible in your area is always a good idea.
How Will You Get Around?
Most of us dread the thought of having to rely on others to get around, and few families look forward to having to talk to beloved elders about giving up their car keys. But for many, it's a conversation that eventually becomes necessary. For those planning to spend their later years in their own homes, or even in and independent or assisted living community, transportation is an important consideration. While the MBTA's train, bus and commuter options are more vast than many other metro areas, and most stations have handicap access - what we traditionally think of as "the T" still doesn't go everywhere. Help is still available, however. "The RIDE" is the MBTA's paratransit system, operating in 58 Massachusetts cities and towns. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, those with qualifying disabilities may be approved for services. Once enrolled in the program, participants can order rides 1-7 days in advance. To learn more about The RIDE, including it's on-demand paratransport project in conjunction with Uber and Lyft, you can check out their website here.
The "T" isn't the only option though. Many Councils on Aging provide transportation assistance for certain residents. Some MassHealth members are eligible for transportation to medical appointments, and some regional transit authorities have special programs for seniors. The state has complied a list of ideas and resources for healthcare transportation that you can access by clicking here. Additionally, MassMobility, an initiative to help seniors, veterans and others without access to transportation, can be another useful resource, at: https://www.mass.gov/orgs/massmobility.