Aging in Place: Where Science Meets Reality


To age in place simply means to remain in one’s own home, or at least within familiar surroundings, rather than move into an institutional setting.
Many older adults (90% of those over 50) will tell you this is their intention. Unfortunately, however, the vast majority have not considered or anticipated the challenges that come with aging until it is too late.
While it is not the mission of CSHPs to shatter hopes of “Aging in Place,” the hard fact is that mobility constraints, unexpected medical conditions, the death of a spouse, or any number of factors can complicate late-in-life plans. While, ending up in a “nursing home” is rarely on anyone’s agenda, seniors who plan ahead and face the facts tend to have the greatest peace of mind.
Opening a dialog about contingency planning or inviting seniors to take another look at options that they may have shut out decades ago, is a tough challenge. CSHPs who navigate these conversations with sensitivity and skill provide an invaluable service to their senior clients and their families.

Age Wave Study

In a study conducted by Age Wave in 2011, they uncovered five key myths about what retirees believe about moving into continuing care retirement communities later in life.
The following excerpts from that report and a few talking points we have included will serve to help you open up conversations with senior adult clients considering their options but still holding on to entrenched ideas that may no longer serve them.
Myth 1: My current home will be the best possible place to live in my post-retirement years because I have more independence and freedom in my own home.

Reality: A recent survey showed that nine out of 10 seniors think the best option is to stay in their current home indefinitely. Ultimately though, many find this not to be the case. Residents in continuing care retirement communities today, are free to engage—or not engage—in activities and to come and go as they please. In many cases, there is more freedom because transportation is available, and they are relieved of the burden of household maintenance.

Myth 2: My current home is the best option to continue an active social life and to stay connected with friends in the years ahead.

Reality: Remaining in your home can result in growing isolation and loneliness in later life. In fact, identifying and building new relationships with like-minded people and maintaining social connections, tends to become increasingly difficult as you age. Studies show that having low social interaction is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, excessive alcohol intake, obesity or never exercising.

As you plan for the years ahead, the importance of social interactions cannot be underestimated. Keep in mind that those who remain in their homes often confront growing solitude as friends move away or pass on, family members relocate to different parts of the country, or when they are widowed. It’s not uncommon, in fact, for seniors to end up feeling trapped in their homes.
Myth 3: It’s less expensive and more financially secure for me to stay in my current home.

Reality: Paying off a home is a huge accomplishment, but when you consider the costs of property taxes, insurance, utilities, yard maintenance and unexpected repairs, the prospect of moving to a senior community begins to seem far more cost effective, while offering predictable costs and greater peace of mind. This is especially true as mechanical items begin to need replacement.

Myth 4: It will be easy to arrange for at-home care if and when I need it.

Reality: Care at home can be difficult to find, costly and unpredictable, while Continuing Care Retirement Communities offer a seamless solution for unexpected care needs that can arise. Research has shown that people tend to underestimate—or be in denial of—the contingencies that can occur later in life. While close to two thirds of Americans will need some type of long-term care after the age of 65, only a third of those surveyed anticipate needing long-term care. Planning ahead ensures that you’ll be in a position to make your choices from among all available options.

Myth 5: Retirement communities are filled with old people who are sick and dying.

Reality: It is important to consider that many of our opinions were formed years and years ago, based on visits to a parent or grandparent in an old-style nursing home. Times have changed. For many, continuing care communities represent a new chapter in life with access to classes, outings, events, and other like-minded people.

Meet Jane

My mom decided at 82 years old to move into a senior living community. When she shared her decision with us, my siblings and I were very concerned. After having lost our dad a few years ago, she had recently begun having balance issues, had given up many things she previously enjoyed, and seemed depressed. Frankly, we thought our mom had basically decided to die – this was her way of saying, “I give up.”

We helped Mom with the move, sold her home, and watched to see how she would adjust to her new environment. (Which much to our surprise was more like a resort than some sort of retirement home).

Six months after she moved, I got a text message from my brother while my mom was visiting him in Florida.

It included this photo of my mom riding a bike in front of his home.

Her energy was better, she was enthusiastic about life again, and she had begun exercising and eating healthy. She says she is now living life again. With no house or yard to worry about, she can focus each day on what she enjoys most.

Staying put!

Not everyone will embrace the idea of moving to supportive housing environments, so instead they will begin preparing for age-related changes by making adaptations (either proactively or reactively).

Common adaptations for aging in place

  • Adult children take over lawn care or it is hired out to a service
  • In-home care aids provide bathing assistance and meal preparation
  • Grab bars and handrails are installed
  • Remodeling to add accessibility features
  • Transportation services are provided by family and friends
  • Neighbors take the trash to the curb and pick up the mail
  • Decision to no longer drive at night or to unfamiliar places
  • Limited outings during inclement weather or heavy traffic
  • Watching religious programming from home rather than going out
The balancing act between congruence and incongruence may eventually become unmanageable or circumstances may change (i.e. a neighbor moves or care support becomes inconsistent).
When unable to make and sustain adequate adaptations over time, relocation may then become the best available option.