September is Healthy Aging Month
Three months from now, we will be ushering a new decade. For most of us baby boomers or older Gen Xers, the incoming decade presents a realization that we are slowly moving into the next phase of life. The old adage says, “Aging is a privilege denied to many.” Are we truly privileged? I am not speaking in the spiritual realm where we appreciate the wisdom we have gained as we age. What I am talking about here is are we adequately prepared to age?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 National Population Projections, the year 2030 marks an important demographic turning point in the history of the United States. In their revised press release on September 6, 2018, the census bureau projects that by that year all baby boomers, and I repeat ALL BABY BOOMERS will be older than age 65 expanding the size of the older population that 1 in every 5 residents will be retirement age. Jonathan Vespa, a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau said, “By 2035 there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million under the age 18.” Other highlights of their projections are the ratio of working-age adults is projected to rise. In 3 months, there will be about three-and-a-half working age adults for every retirement age person which will fall to two-and-a-half working age adults for every retirement age person in 2060. The median age of the U.S. Population will be 43 in 2060 compared to 38 in 2018. With these numbers in mind, we are faced with the challenges that the aging process presents. Our health, our finances, our mobility, our independence are just a few. The earlier we start preparing for our old age, the greater the chance that it is truly a privilege to grow old.
Most of us would like to remain in our home as we get older. My personal experience with my own mother proved to me that older people hate change. She wanted everything to stay where they are. She had her own schedule that she didn’t want disrupted. Home was where she was comfortable, where everything was familiar. Unfortunately for my mother, her dementia made it unsafe for her to stay in our home. It was heart wrenching for me as her daughter, her primary caregiver, to move her into a nursing home and relinquish my duty to care for her to the staff. I saw my mother deteriorate in her short 2 year stay in a nursing home and it was a fall that cut her life short. It has now become my life’s purpose to help older adults age in place, to address their concerns, and provide solutions that address safety in their homes in collaboration with other professionals.
A 2018 AARP survey showed that 3 out of 4 Americans over the age of 50 want to stay in their current residence as long as possible. Staying at home in the neighborhood where they are deeply rooted provides a sense of pride, connection, and community that leads to better well-being and alleviate loneliness among this age group. Mobility and movement, vision changes, brain health, daily living, and lifestyle are some of the many challenges of aging, let alone financial wellness. According to seniorliving.org, the cost of assisted living nationally averages $132 per day, $4000 per month, and $48,000 annually. The average costs of nursing home care is between $89,297- $100,375 annually.
As a nation, we are tasked to come up with solutions and innovations to answer to the needs of the aging population. Technology has become a friend to the elderly. Emergency alert systems that detect falls and call for help, the Apple Watch Series 4 which monitors heart rhythms and detects falls, voice control devices, cameras, microphones, motion sensors, smart lighting are the safety technologies that are available. Surprisingly, many overlook the home as a source of well-being for the elderly. Aging-in-place means being able to remain in one’s home safely, independently and comfortably regardless of age, income or ability level. It means the pleasure of living in a familiar environment throughout one’s maturing years and the ability to enjoy the daily rituals and the special events that enrich all our lives. It means being able to call your house a “home” for a lifetime. The Certified Age in Place Specialist Designation (CAPS) was developed by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in partnership with American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and is administered by NAHB. As a General Contractor and Remodeling Professional who have earned the CAPS designation, I have been trained in designing and building aesthetically-enriching, barrier-free living environments. I understand the unique needs of the older adult population and apply strategies and techniques to provide comprehensive and practical home modification solutions. To age in place, homeowners will probably need to make alterations to their home to improve safety, access and maneuverability. These modifications could include installing bath/shower grab bars, tub to shower conversion, adjusting countertop heights, increasing lighting, adding an elevator, creating multifunctional first floor master suites, widening doorways and hallways to be wheelchair or walker accessible in the future, contrasting paint colors, plumbing fixture with motion sensors, and flooring free of any trip hazard. These housing solutions with smart technologies that monitor, remind, and call for help are a great start for the elderly to stay home in their homes longer and safer.
2020 is just around the corner and we are headed to an America that is full of silver haired, knowledge -rich, experience-full, wisdom-filled members of the population. It is to our nation’s advantage that we create a society that allows our citizens to age with dignity in the safety and comfort of their homes for as long as they can. We have just touched the safety side of aging, there is still a whole lot left to be done like creating a movement to support community-based efforts and prevent the isolation of our seniors, and that will be for another day.