Many seniors are unaware that independent living may be a good option. Others are aware of independent living, but skeptical of the costs or concerned about whether these communities can really offer independence. They see literature targeted to caregivers and start worrying that what they’re really committing to when they commit to independent living is life in a sterile facility that treats them like an “old person.”
Today’s seniors face a frustrating conundrum: Stereotypes of elders haven’t changed much. Though seniors can remain active and healthy well into their ninth and tenth decades, many people expect that seniors will be infirm, dependent, and willing to give up the lives they’ve built for themselves.
"Eighteen percent of seniors live alone, and nearly half report feeling lonely on a regular basis."
This ageism can be maddening for both seniors and their loved ones. After all, even when a senior’s body does begin to show signs of wear and tear, a senior’s desire for independence, entertainment, and growth remains intact.
Because we collectively have not addressed the challenges and demands aging presents, many seniors lead more difficult lives than necessary. Eighteen percent of seniors live alone, and nearly half report feeling lonely on a regular basis. Seniors with health issues may be especially vulnerable to loneliness. Seniors who can’t drive, who don’t want to drive at night, or who feel anxious about going out alone may spend days and even weeks in their homes without human contact or intellectual stimulation.
This loneliness is tragic, but it’s also a serious public health crisis. One recent study found that loneliness could be more deadly than obesity. Other research has shown that lonely seniors are more likely to die prematurely and more likely to report poor health.
Seniors continue to say they want to live at home—even though the research shows many seniors who make this choice are unhappy and unhealthy as a result. Seniors may mistakenly believe that a shift to independent living will compromise their independence. The reality is that seniors who move to independent living have more options, more freedom, and often better health.
Loneliness is just one challenge seniors face when they choose to age in place. Some other challenges of remaining at home include:
- Sustaining relationships with loved ones and forming new relationships. Particularly when a senior can’t drive or only drives during the day, staying in touch with people can be a challenge.
- Maintaining the home. Keeping a house operating smoothly requires more than just paying the mortgage. There may be a lawn or garden to tend, a leaky roof to fix, and an ever-evolving list of home maintenance tasks to manage.
- Finding meaningful ways to spend your time. Volunteer work, classes, and outings into town all require time, money, and energy. Particularly if you live in a busy city or an isolated area, a single activity can take an entire day of planning.
- Enjoying retirement. Whether it was at a demanding job of your own, supporting your partner’s career, or raising children, you’ve spent most of your life working to get to this point. You deserve to enjoy it. The demands of home ownership can make that difficult, particularly if you have health or mobility impairments.
- Remaining healthy. As you age, you may need to take medications, go to doctor’s appointments, or follow up with specialists such as nutritionists. Tending to your health can feel like a full-time job. Driving yourself to appointments can be stressful and overwhelming.
- Managing expenses. No matter how much they’ve saved for retirement, most seniors live on a fixed income. This means that unexpected expenses can throw a wrench into even the best-managed budgets. Some seniors struggle to afford home repairs. Others live reasonably comfortably, but worry about the effects of rising property taxes.
- Feeling safe and secure in your home. Seniors face a number of safety obstacles as they age. Difficulty seeing and hearing may mean they’re less likely to notice a fire or other hazard, mobility impairments can increase the likelihood of a fall, and health issues can feel more threatening to seniors who live alone.
All of these concerns add up to a retirement that might look quite different from what you hoped. Seniors who fantasized of aging in place may find that it means feeling isolated and anxious in a home that needs more work than they’re prepared to do.
What’s a doggedly independent senior to do?