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This winter, at the tender age of 61, I took the first fall of my life that had any sort of significant repercussions: physical therapy, hand surgery and eight weeks in a cast.
It could have been worse. But it got me thinking, “What do I need to be careful of now that didn’t matter ten years ago? What will I need to change going forward?”
When asked, 80 to 90 percent of older adults say they want to remain in their homes as long as possible, a choice known as ‘aging in place.’ I’d count myself among them.
But the reality is that aging in the right place takes some planning, starting with asking yourself some important questions, long before a decision regarding where to spend your senior years becomes urgent.
Some sobering statistics
According to national surveys, at least 65 percent of seniors ages 60 through 70 find it easy to live on their own.
But among those 70 or older, only 43 percent would agree with that statement. At least 20 percent of the older group says they can’t manage day-to-day tasks without some sort of assistance.
Yet the same survey tells us that most of the folks in this older category (90 percent) intend to “age in place” — in other words, to remain in their present homes until they are 80.
But only 20 percent of them have plans for modifications to suit their changing needs and abilities.
See how the statistics don’t add up? The same 20 percent who currently find it difficult to live independently also don’t see the need to make in-home changes that could impact their safety.
What it takes to age in place
I consider myself to be looking at old age from a comfortable distance. But I’m starting to consider what sorts of adjustments to my home could help me remain here independently, at least for the next decade or two.
Here are modifications you, too, may want to consider if you’re “of a certain age” and determined to live in the home you love…
- Install grab bars in the tub and bathroom that are graded to bear at least 250 pounds.
- Switch deep pile carpet for low-friction flooring.
- Remove throw rugs or tape them down securely on all sides.
- Install new safety strips in the tub and shower.
- If possible, installing a walk-in tub or shower greatly decreases the likelihood of a fall.
- Widen doorways. It’s a bigger undertaking, but it prepares you for the eventuality of a wheelchair or walker.
- Remove divider strips between rooms that can trip you up.
- Install rocker light switches that are easier to turn on than flip switches.
Aging in the right place
I love my home, and the town I’ve lived in for over 25 years. But I’d be lying if I told you I never wonder if it’s the best place for me to grow old.
For one thing, winters are brutal. Cleaning snow and scraping ice after every storm is exhausting even now. And I’ve learned that my body is just happier when it’s warm. So, I have some choices to make.
The decision to age in place is not just about whether your present home can accommodate your changing needs.
The term “aging in the right place” is gaining popularity among experts who advise older adults.
Linda P. Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, says that aging in the right place “is shaped by personal vision, opportunity and what moves you.”
Does your vision for your retirement years include living near the water? Access to cultural events? Biking? Volunteer work? All of this should inform where you decide to age.
These may seem like big questions, and you may not have all the answers yet. But starting to think about them now is actually a way to take control of your future and prepare to continue a safe, healthy and fruitful life without skipping a beat.
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