The senior care industry is full of acronyms and phrases that you only learn as you begin to age. Maybe you heard the common phrase “aging in place” and became curious about what it meant. In general, aging in place means getting older in one location — typically the family home — by using resources and support services. Though this concept sounds lovely, it is not always the safest or best option for remaining as healthy as possible.
Unfortunately, aging in place at home can cause issues with accessibility, socialization, and wellness. In fact, in the midst of a global pandemic, the safest place to be may actually be in a senior living community, instead of isolated at home.
Aging in place at home begins to have its challenges as soon as you walk through the front door. Though many older adults express the desire to remain at home for as long as possible, their home quickly no longer works for them if they use a walker or other mobility device, or if their endurance is low.
Consider the master bedroom. If it is on the second floor of the home, seniors with low levels of endurance because of a recent hospital stay or general deconditioning will find climbing up and down the stairs throughout the day challenging. If the master bedroom is moved to the first floor of the home, the senior misses out on additional strength-building activity and ends up living and moving throughout just a few rooms of the home, which can further decondition their muscles and bodies.
The kitchen is another great example of how the home can stop working for seniors who are aging in place. For example, seniors may no longer be able to safely access and utilize high shelves or cabinets. Kitchen counters can seem much too high for a senior who uses a wheelchair, and pass-through areas can be cumbersome if the older adult uses a walker or other mobility device.
Senior living communities are designed with older adults in mind. Every last detail in the apartments, hallways, and dining rooms is built to accommodate older adults and their diverse needs.
Perhaps just as challenging as the environmental concerns of aging in place are the socialization deficits that come with living at home alone or with a partner. Healthy socialization with peers is associated with positive health benefits, while decreased connection with others has been linked to negative consequences ranging from high blood pressure to depression to cognitive decline.
Aging in place at home alone or with a partner significantly decreases access to healthy socialization opportunities. Without safe transportation to and from dinners out with friends, book club discussions, or places of worship, seniors living at home alone are more likely to experience feelings of loneliness. Though home health services and family visits can certainly ease some of that burden, the truth is that living at home simply decreases the number of meaningful connections with peers and new friends.
In stark contrast to this, senior living communities are hubs of activity where residents have the opportunity to meet new neighbors during a live concert event or catch up over coffee with a best friend who lives down the hall. Socialization is natural and easy, making residents healthier.
Finally, aging in place offers a unique set of wellness challenges for even the healthiest older adult. For example, living at home means the older adult must drive or find transportation to the gym for a workout class, to outpatient therapy sessions, or to follow-up appointments with their physician. In case of emergency, the older adult at home must call 911 themselves or have a way to contact others if they fall or feel unwell.
Most seniors would prefer to have easy access to wellness services that are designed to keep them feeling as healthy as possible. Unfortunately, this cannot happen easily at home. Senior living communities offer on-site exercise programs and therapy services, in addition to events like wellness fairs and health lectures. The best part? All of these events and resources are a quick walk down the hall.
Senior Living During COVID-19
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is that an unexpected health crisis can always happen. Because older adults are among the most vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19, many who are living at home have carefully quarantined themselves. Though this may have kept them physically healthy, staying at home can also cause increased anxiety and feelings of loneliness for most older adults.
At The Arbor Company, we have been creating best practices for protecting our residents and staff since the beginning of the pandemic. In fact, we began limiting visitors and starting preventative techniques in mid-February, long before the nation started to lock down major cities. Since then, we have used our experience and our expertise to keep our residents as safe and healthy as possible.
Our action plan for communities across the country included stopping visitors, taking temperatures of residents and staff members daily, practicing social distancing during activities and meals, and ensuring that staff members were using personal protective equipment (PPE) while following stringent infection-control protocol. Our teams did everything possible to eliminate the risk of outside infection, including sanitizing and disinfecting packages for our residents so that they didn’t have to worry about it.
For seniors aging in place during the coronavirus pandemic, the risk of outside infection is higher and can be a significant source of anxiety. Living in a senior community alleviates this risk and provides a sense of security.
Learn more about life inside Arbor Company communities and stay updated with senior health topics by subscribing to our blog.