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Aging In The Right Place – Reasons To Plan Ahead

Aging In The Right Place – Reasons To Plan Ahead

By Susan Williams

Where are you going to live as you age?

Chances are this thought has crossed your mind at some point. Will you be able to stay in your own home? Will you need to move? Will you need help? So many questions and it’s not necessarily a single answer.

To better understand our options and what the future may hold as it relates to aging and housing, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Stephen Golant.

Dr. Golant is a Professor at the University of Florida and is well recognized and sought out for his research on the housing, mobility, transportation, and long-term care needs of older people. Along with being a Professor, Dr. Golant also is an author of the book “Aging In The Right Place”.

Here is a summary of some of his predictions to help you age in the right place that Dr. Golant shared with me. While he makes multiple suggestions, he emphasized that aging well is always a very personal decision.  Everyone is different.

The Move From Home Ownership To Renting

Dr. Golant believes that as the population starts to shift into their mid-70’s and older, there will be a move from home ownership to renting. He believes this won’t be a major tsunami, but more of a gradual shift over time.

I asked Dr. Golant if this was a result of the need for people to pull equity from their homes given there are so many people that haven’t necessarily saved enough for their retirement. He agreed that this may be the case; however there is a much larger motivator in play.

The decline in informal caregiver support – also known as family.

We all know that managing and maintaining a home takes energy, effort and money. Everything from outside maintenance, to inside repairs to even changing lightbulbs all require attention. As well, as people age, stairs can become a challenge, access to laundry facilities and even getting in a bathtub can pose a challenge.

So as much as someone may want to live independently, the need for additional support which is usually provided from family members—mainly wives and daughters—will grow. However, family members may be less available to provide this assistance. Smaller families and high divorce rates will result in family caregivers being a declining resource. Moreover, a family caregiver’s demands to manage their own careers, children and their own home responsibilities will further reduce the number of loved ones who care.

As a result, a move may be necessary. Renting makes more sense as it does not tie up equity and allows someone to not make a major long-term commitment should the location or building not suit them.

When I asked wouldn’t there be a shortage of rental units to support this change, Dr. Golant believes that even though younger generations may be slower in purchasing homes right now, they will eventually as they begin to start their own families. He projects that this transition will probably happen around the time the largest cohort of baby boomers will be looking to rent. As a result, this demographic shift will allow for increased availability for rentals.

Think Home Care Is Stressed Now – Just Wait

A while back I wrote a post about a potential workforce crisis in elder care. In this post, we shared some scary statistics of the current caregiver environment and the fact that we are struggling to meet the current population’s needs never mind our future requirements.

Dr. Golant confirmed the severity of this situation and also added that this is poised to become worse as many of these home care positions are often filled by immigrants. He went on to share that if immigration policies are implemented that limit a country’s ability to admit lower paid workers this will further deteriorate an already stretched and stressed situation.

This area greatly concerns Dr. Golant as he does not believe that as a society we are spending enough time truly understanding the needs, the challenges and designing solutions to help older people navigate their future aging living options.

Aging In Place – A Viable Option

It is well known that the majority of the population would prefer to age in place – a term that means to remain and age in their own home. And the numbers aren’t small. A Harvard study on housing projects that

By 2035, an astounding 1 out of 3 American households will be headed by someone aged 65 or older”.

That’s a whole lot of people aging in their own homes.

Many of these people will be residing in the suburbs as well. But here is where Dr. Golant actually feels optimistic. He believes that the services and support for those that are able to remain somewhat independent in their own homes will be available to support this lifestyle.

Tele-health, physician house calls, home delivery of goods (think Amazon) and services (think home care) along with food delivery will all become the norm. He predicts that sensor technologies will be readily available to ensure that older people won’t have unnoticed accidents.

When I asked him about mobility concerns and how will people get to where they need to go Dr. Golant shared there are solutions in development. For those in major cities, good transit systems are sometimes available to serve an older population. As for those in the suburbs, only 1 – 2% actually use public transit. He believes that autonomous cars will be in play within the next 10 years or so and that older persons will be the major beneficiaries of ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

Dr. Golant agrees that there is work to be done in order to support older people staying in their familiar homes – renovations to dwellings to make them safe to age in, figuring out how to get the necessary home care workers but the option to actually safely age in place is a very positive reality and the ability to bring goods and services into the home will make it happen—even robotic pets serving as companions.

Homesharing – Is This Realistic?

Chances are you have seen a number of different articles promoting the benefits of homesharing. Whether it’s friends living with friends, older people living with younger people, or generations of families living together, this seems to be an upcoming trend.

When I asked Dr. Golant his thoughts on this I received a surprising answer – “living with persons not related to you is unlikely a long term solution to care for seniors”. Many older people feel they lose their privacy and are unable to control how their homes look and feel; moreover these are often unstable living arrangements because their new housemates often move out after a short period.

He agreed that there is more of this type of living arrangements being shared by the media; however it is practiced by  a very small portion of the population. For the last decade it has stayed at around 1 – 1.5%. As he said “It’s just because we now have more older people, we are now seeing more examples.” Also, more companies are providing help to older persons to find appropriate housemates.

As for sharing an apartment or house with relatives, this is also declining. In 2015, only 10 percent of older males and 19 percent of older females lived with other relatives or unrelated persons compared to back in 1970 when it was 16 percent and 31 percent. Women tend to select this option more than men as they are often widowed earlier and also are living longer. However, Dr. Golant mentioned that for older persons wanting to remain independent, homesharing may still be preferable to transitioning to a senior care facility.

But what Dr. Golant also shared where he is seeing an increase is in common-law arrangements. For the adults 65+ this living arrangement has actually more than doubled from 1997 to 2016. Often interested in committing to companionship rather than marriage is a prime motivator in driving this growth. Golant felt that this living arrangement may be an excellent way to age in place.

Retirement Homes / Assisted Living – A Good Option?

When I asked Dr. Golant for his thoughts on retirement homes and assisted living facilities I just loved his answer.

When you have seen one assisted living facility you have seen one assisted living facility.

He went further on to explain that each facility can be very different in the type of services and quality that they provide. He told me that they have definitely become better run over the years and offer many more amenities. As well, they often recognize that people do need access to a primary care physician or physician’s assistant so this support is often now available onsite.

His view was that this is a solid option however the appropriate research and checks should be completed to ensure that someone will receive the appropriate care that they personally need, the ability to maintain their independence and also be well treated and respected.

He also stressed that before moving, “it is important to talk to existing residents to get a feel for their opinions of the place.” Having an adult child living nearby who acts as an advocate is also a plus.

Technology – How Will This Help?

Dr. Golant shared that there is a tremendous number of companies devising sensor-based devices. Ways to measure stability and falls and generate calls for assistance, sensors to detect movement and identify any oddities in behaviour and health sensors and monitoring are just some of the technology starting to emerge.

He believes that the costs of this technology will be driven down over time similar to the price curve of other previous technologies. As well, insurance companies and healthcare organizations will also be forcing the pricing down as they begin to insist that some of these technologies be used in order better manage and control their own costs.

We need to be aware however that along with some of the benefits of a problem being detected earlier and receiving a quicker response, there is also the negative aspects associated with infringements of our privacy. But this is no different to other technologies being introduced into our lives.

So the landscape of living options as we age continues to grow and evolve. The best thing we can possibly do right now is to start thinking of potential situations that may impact our living requirements as we age. This way we can plan what we would like to do before it happens rather than be forced to make rushed decisions once it does.

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.