Independent Seniors Face Difficult Choices
Seniors continue to live longer, requiring thoughtful planning for where they will reside in their golden years as their health and mobility decline. With many seniors remaining in private homes without live-in help, it comes as no surprise that falling is a leading cause of injury. If the senior chooses to remain in their home, several mechanisms are available to age gracefully by maintaining safety and providing for greater independence.
Sometimes, families are apprehensive about their elderly family member living alone and intend on inviting them into their home. In this context, different challenges will present themselves depending on family dynamics and the level of care required. Significant adaptations will be necessary, and family concerns will need to be addressed to reduce the likelihood of conflict. Nevertheless, with careful consideration, it can be an opportunity for the senior to experience love, support, and companionship during the remaining final years of their life.
Trusted guidance on these issues increases the senior’s longevity and ensures the family can happily coexist. “Every family approaches caring for a senior differently,” explains founding attorney Joseph Donohue, “I advise my clients of problems likely to arise and factors to consider given various living situations to prevent issues and facilitate a smooth transition.”
Tech Savvy Seniors
The first way to support a senior’s autonomy is through the use of technology. Certain devices make aging in place easier for the senior and provide convenience to the family to check in on them without being overly intrusive or having to travel long distances for frequent visits. It also helps that seniors have grown impressively tech-savvy. During the pandemic, grandparents learned to navigate Zoom and FaceTime to connect with family members while avoiding the risk of illness. Seniors are also active on social media and using it to reconnect with old friends and distant relatives.
As mobility decreases, technology makes tasks manageable. Virtually any product can be delivered using online services or subscriptions through retailers like Amazon. Non-perishable household items like laundry detergent or trash bags can now be mailed, eliminating the need to run frequent errands. Virtual assistants like Alexa, Google Home, or Siri are voice-activated, so a senior can make a grocery list or control the television from the comfort of their recliner, or contact emergency services if they have fallen and can’t get up!
The National Council on Aging found that 75% of seniors have at least one chronic medical condition. To ease safety or medical concerns, families can install security cameras to gain peace of mind without being intrusive in the senior’s life. Footage can be viewed on demand to check in or confirm the dog was fed. Doorbells also have built-in cameras for security to protect a senior from unwelcome solicitation by questionable characters.
To further hedge against a medical crisis when the senior is alone, life-alert pendants can be worn to alert family members to trouble, and an Apple Watch can track health data between doctor visits. There are also cell phone apps to create pill reminders, and automated machines to distribute the correct dosage of medication to guarantee accuracy.
Who’s in your Senior Support Circle?
The concept of a “Support Circle” incorporates essential people into a senior’s life by grouping them into six categories: financial, tax, legal, housing, healthcare, and social. “A senior leans on each group in different ways making it important for people in one group to know people in the other groups,” explains Donohue, “it creates open lines of communication before a crisis occurs.” For example, if a father’s bills are paid by his daughter, she should be acquainted with his banker, investment advisor, and accountant to efficiently manage finances and tax filing obligations. The same concept applies to friends and neighbors who can check in on the senior or plan lunches with them to better integrate them into community life.
Preventing Family Disruption
There may come a time when a senior cannot safely live on their own or no longer wants to struggle, making moving in with younger family members the only option to avoid a nursing home. It is a difficult decision that works better for some families than others. Transparent communication about expectations, responsibilities, and boundaries helps facilitate the process.
Assimilation into a new household depends on the senior’s adaptability, dependency, and the host family’s level of acceptance. Both sides should discuss sticking points for a clear understanding of expectations, including the division of chores and bills. Keep in mind, the senior may be able to cook dinner while lacking the strength to take out the trash or push a lawn mower. Sharing responsibilities in an accommodating way can help avoid arguments and injuries.
Another point of friction is planning family versus private meals. Married empty nesters may value some private meals without the senior’s company, or the senior may prefer to cook something for themselves and eat alone. Also, consider that seniors may like to have their early bird special and may not want to eat later with the family.
Unfortunately, the senior and some family members may just not get along. If there is known animosity between individuals, living together will only exacerbate problems. “There should be a preexisting, loving relationship between everyone involved before contemplating inviting the senior into an unwelcoming environment,” advises Donohue, “it could be detrimental to your family, marriage, or sanity.”
Senior-Friendly Home Modifications
Aging in place or joining a new home may necessitate design modifications to meet the senior’s needs and address functional limitations. Modifications should occur when the senior is healthy to limit inconvenience or disruption. You do not want to return from the hospital with a wheelchair only to realize it cannot fit through the bathroom doorframe. Additionally, installation of a roll-in shower and handheld showerhead can mean the difference between bathing independently with privacy, and needing help.
There should always be conversations about the cost of required home maintenance and renovations when a senior joins the home. This includes who pays for landscaping, property taxes, or repairs costs resulting from the senior’s stay. If the senior is unable to afford repairs, other family members may be asked to help bear the expense.
Be aware that renovations to accommodate the senior may negatively impact a home’s resale value. Items installed should be removable - such as stair lifts, ramps, grab bars, and accessible showers. Other modifications that become fixtures are not recommended. Examples are accessible tubs that are not attractive to subsequent buyers or elevators with a high price that is rarely recouped. Similarly, converting a garage or basement, or making substantial structural changes rarely yield a positive return on investment.
Aging in place, or welcoming a senior into your home, is a multifaceted endeavor requiring well-thought-out planning. The goal is to provide the senior with a supportive, dignified, and enriching environment while not compromising the family’s well-being. There will undoubtedly be challenges, but with a little empathy and creativity, a multi-generational family can coexist in harmony for years to come.
October 27, 2023