Aging in place seems to be the simplest, most affordable way to grow old gracefully. Yet there is a right way to age in place, and a lot of wrong ways. Unfortunately, you have to plan, you have to be pro-active, and you have to be willing to compromise your former devil-may-care lifestyle — especially in these rapidly changing times.
Given the recommendations around social distancing and documented outbreaks in nursing homes and other care facilities, more and more seniors are opting to age in place or, in other words, remain in their homes. But that’s easier said than done. Whether we’re in a pandemic or not, adjustments need to be made to ensure they have the support to do so safely.
Whether we like it or not, older people have a smaller margin for error in taking care of their health and well being. Specifically, there are three areas that you need to optimize to make your aging in place adventure stay on track — medication management, remote monitoring, and home modifications — and one area (your health) that you need to take care of no matter where you live. But it's particularly important if you decide to forge ahead alone.
Let's look at each of these:
Is everyone out there rigorously adhering to their medication schedule? I didn't think so. Even the most disciplined of us will occasionally miss a dose or two. Nobody likes to get out of bed to take a pill they have forgotten to take at dinner. But beyond that, an alarming percentage (50%) of us are not taking our medicine as prescribed and an amazing 20% of prescriptions actually go unfilled. I even have several on my shelf that I have dutifully filled but then never taken, because I am smarter than my doctor.
There is no medicine that will cure that, but for those that are compliant and actually want to stick to their schedule and take the medicines that have been prescribed for them, there are a number of innovations like the Pria Smart Automated Medication Dispenser that will help you. That one is pretty good (read the reviews) but a little spendy, but there are less expensive and better-reviewed alternatives, like the LiveFine 28-Day Automatic Pill Dispenser. Of course, you still have to actually fill each dispenser and then manually swallow the pills, but we need all the help we can get.
This one is tricky, of course, because many of us have qualms about Big Brother (or in this case Big Children) watching our every move. But that's really not how remote monitoring devices work. And they have come a long way from the "I've fallen and I can't get up" alert buttons. There are really some simple yet sophisticated systems on the horizon that will not only give you peace-of-mind, but will also simplify caregiving for your adult children, help you keep your affairs organized and help your family set up a care team to provide help when you need it. Check this one out from Shepherd Systems.
Home modifications can be expensive, but with some forethought, can make your home safer and easier to navigate. Think through the things that you really need to have done that will align with your lifestyle, and don't be tempted to buy a home modification package that includes some things you don't really need. Grab bars in the tub or shower are great for all ages, and you really should remove any throw rugs or other things you might trip over. But do you really need to move all of your electrical outlets above waist level? And a walk-in tub might be essential if that's the only way you can bathe, but if you don't really need that, you may regret having to deal with it all the time. Of course, if you do want to go full bore, or whole hog, this is a fairly comprehensive list.
We've talked about medication management. Now let's talk about staying healthy so you won't need additional medication. These old bodies wear out, that's true, but just like your car or your HVAC system, the more you actively maintain it, the longer it will last, and the less it will cost to fix in the long run. And we're in it for the long run. Diet and exercise. That's all. You know what to eat and not to eat, and you know that some form of regular light exercise — walking, stretching, some kind of movement, and exercising with light weights can make you stronger physically and mentally. But you have got to do it. Nothing crazy. No fad diets. No "get the body of a 30-year-old" when you're 70. None of that works and can only cause harm.
Aging in place is not for everyone. Many people need assistance and will benefit from a senior care community that can help with the activities of daily living. And many others may need a structured memory care community. But for those who want to remain "on their own" as long as possible, there are ways to make the aging-in-place adventure successful and rewarding.
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