The term “aging in place” refers to how retirees wish to remain in their homes for their entire retirement, however long it may last. Aging in place is a growing trend and increasingly important for millions of Americans.
On the other hand, it’s also a hard goal to achieve. One major moving target in retirement is how our health needs evolve as we age. These changes can be especially impactful if we move into health situations requiring assisted living or other long-term care support.
According to a U.S. News & World Report survey, 9 in 10 adults aged 55 and up said it’s an important goal for them to be able to receive this care in their own homes, where they are comfortable and familiar, if at all possible. In this article, we will discuss aging in place and some other things to keep in mind, including:
- What you should know about it,
- Ways to create a sustainable plan that can make it possible, and
- Potential pitfalls for planning for aging in place.
What Does Aging in Place Really Mean?
Aging in place means different things to different people. Still, basically it refers to growing old in your home and community rather than downsizing or moving into some form of assisted or institutional living.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines it as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” Those who do age in place have better self-esteem, life satisfaction, and a more positive quality of life, according to research by AARP.
Being able to age in place is good for everyone. The retiree enjoys the health and wellness benefits of living in the comfortable and familiar settings of their home, while the surrounding community benefits from retaining its older members. Young people can enjoy contact with older adults, and those adults can volunteer, as they do, more than any other age group.
Is Aging in Place Really Possible for Many Retirees?
The obvious question is, of course, is aging in place financially and physically possible for most retirees? Let’s look at some of these issues and ways to respond to them.
Often, there are financial questions facing a retiree seeking to age in place. Mortgages, HOA fees, utility bills, and paying for services one can no longer easily do (ex: lawncare), all factor into what may be affordable for someone.
If you aren’t sure about what spending you can afford, your financial professional can help you understand what is available and how you can begin to arrange your finances now to deal with the issues then.
Consider whether you have a deep bathtub or a walk-in shower. Are there lots of stairs? Can you negotiate the house in a wheelchair?
What other changes may be needed to cover any future mobility issues? Any of these may be a problem in years ahead and require more structural modifications than you can afford or want to live through.
Consider where your health is now and where it will be. If you are already suffering from a chronic and life-threatening condition, assisted living might be the better option for you. If you are relatively healthy and expect to continue to be, aging in place may work for you.
Just be aware that your needs will change over the years, and it’s good to anticipate any responses to those changes.
Can you still drive? Is public transportation convenient and safe near your home? Will you need share-a-ride services, and are they cheap and easy in your area? You will lose your ability to drive at some point and want to ensure you can still get around as you need to.
How Do You Plan for Aging in Place?
Planning for aging in place can be challenging because of many unpredictable variables.
Health changes can be slow, or they can occur in a single event in a way that makes a huge difference in someone’s ability to live independently. But there are some things that everyone can anticipate and plan for, of which we cover a few in this article.
Healthcare considerations for aging in place start with where you are right now. Are there chronic illnesses like diabetes or COPD that you have to plan around? Can you remember to take your prescribed medications at the right time and in the right amount? Do you need any special care?
There are ways to deal with all of these issues. You can use weekly pill holders and keep Post-It™ notes or an online calendar to remember appointments.
If you are just out of the hospital, your discharge team can help you make any necessary arrangements for special care and help you find out if Medicare will cover a home health aide. If you have memory issues with doctor instructions, either get them in writing or take a trusted person along with you on doctor visits. Ask this person to write down everything the doctor wants you to do.
Do you need help with planning for aging in planning and other important “what-ifs” of retirement? Talk to your financial professional at SafeMoney.com or elsewhere for guidance on starting points for your retirement planning.
Insofar as aging in place planning, AARP and your local Area Agency on Aging can help you find resources. Speak to them as you plan and ask for help from friends and family who may already be aging in place.
Your financial professionals can be valuable guides in choosing financial options. Their input can assist you in matters such as how to integrate your Social Security benefits with your other retirement assets and disbursements to maximize what you get.
Grocery shopping can be handled by delivery or, if you are still driving, by picking up an online order. Cooking is more challenging. It may require you to work with neighbors and friends to ensure everyone gets plenty of fresh, healthy food. Potlucks, progressive dinners, and cooperative cooking can all help to achieve this goal.
Meal delivery services can bring hot meals to you a few days a week, often free or at a low cost. Perhaps you have a friend or relative who can bring you a healthy meal a few times a week.
Elder financial abuse comes up a fair bit in the United States. It’s good to plan against that occurring to you. Even if you don’t have to worry about abuse, memory issues later on may affect the timely paying of bills.
Trusted relatives can help, as can volunteers, financial advisors, trust officers, and even senior care specialists. Keeping your bills paid and your finances protected are key elements to aging in place successfully. Your local Area Agency on Aging can help you find the right resources.
You also need to protect yourself from fraud. Seniors are among the most frequent victims of financial scams. Be defensive – don’t give anyone your Social Security Number, bank or credit card numbers, or any other private financial information. The IRS won’t call you and ask for information like this, and your bank and brokerage firm won’t either. If you get a call like that, hang up, call the number you usually call, and ask if they are trying to reach you.
Also, never, ever allow anyone to take control of your computer if you use one. Unless you have called a repair service and know they are to be trusted, no one should control your computer but you. Your “nephew” will just have to wait for bail money.
Also, plan for how you will hold and spend your retirement dollars. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket but consider retirement accounts, mutual funds, annuities, long-term care riders and policies, and other financial holdings.
Each of these financial instruments brings different aspects to your financial planning. They can be counter-cyclical, protecting you by having one go up when another goes down. Using a financial professional can help you set up the best plan for you.
For some retirees, keeping up with personal care can be difficult. Whether it’s washing your hair, standing in a shower, or just getting dressed, all of these get harder as we get older and can decline seriously from certain conditions.
If you live with someone, they can help. If not, you can get home care for the short time it takes to do these things every day.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Aging in Place?
Aging in place has good things and bad things. In other words, there are pros and cons, and you can explore your options and determine which outweighs the other for you.
Pros of Aging in Place
Familiarity – You have lived in your home and your community for a long time. You know how to get around your home and its potential hazards.
Consistency – You don’t have to make major changes in your lifestyle. You are still your own boss in your own home.
Ease – Downsizing and moving is a major undertaking, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Aging in place keeps you from having to do that, letting you remain comfortable with the things you love in the place you love.
Cons of Aging in Place
Maintenance & Upkeep – All that work around the house still has to be done, and you are less able to do it. You can get most anything done for you, from cleaning to repairs to shopping, but the costs may be prohibitive.
Isolation – Many people experience loneliness while living in place. Your home used to have your spouse and children in it, but now you may be on your own or with just a pet. Assisted living can give those feeling isolated access to interpersonal contact daily.
Safety – When you are alone, you can fall, and no one will know. Or you can become ill or be injured without anyone knowing you need help. There are alert services to deal with these issues, but they do have charges, and then it’s a matter of being able to pay for them.
What Are Some Common Pitfalls for Aging in Place?
Some of the most important pitfalls are transportation, access to care, maintaining relationships, keeping your home safe, and figuring out who you can trust.
How Should You Pay for Home Healthcare and Long-Term Care?
Like with all things retirement, aging in place has costs. Medical care is a huge percentage of your potential costs. Paying for things you used to do for yourself, like shopping and home repairs, can also add up.
You will have Social Security, possibly a pension, and the retirement assets you have built up. These may include annuities that give you a stream of income in addition to Social Security, investment accounts that you can withdraw from, IRAs, and 401k plans that also allow or require withdrawals. And you can use riders on your annuities to make paying for certain types of medical expenses more easily.
However, weaving all these things together in the way that will gain you the most dollars and cost you the least taxes is a complex and mysterious task. Consider obtaining – especially if you are in your mid-career stages and retirement is approaching year by year – a trusted financial professional who can assist you in making plans for the very best retirement you can have.
The Bottom Line on Aging in Place
Ultimately, aging in place is a decision you will make many times during your retirement. Balance all of these pros and cons, be honest with yourself about your assets – financial and physical – and decide what works best for you.
If you aren’t yet speaking with a financial professional, perhaps consider connecting with someone and asking for their guidance in exploring your options as well as the pros and cons. You may want to look into a financial professional who is independent, meaning they aren’t beholden to one parent financial company or have a limited shelf of financial solutions they can draw on for you.
If that and experience are important to you, many retirement-knowledgeable financial professionals are available here at SafeMoney.com. Get started by visiting our “Find a Financial Professional” section to connect with someone directly, where you can talk about your goals, concerns, and overall situation. Should you need a personal referral, please call us at 877.476.9723.