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Aging in place - growing older at home

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Aging in Place: Growing Older at Home

Al Waller: As most are aware, people are living longer now than any generation that came before us. However, with that gift of time comes some significant life decisions, and what probably comes to mind first would be where to live later in life. For an increasing number of people, that desire would be to age in place in their own homes.

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth SM. I’m your host, Al Waller. With me is Catherine Collinson, CEO and president of nonprofit Transamerica Institute®, to delve into this topic.

First Catherine, nice to have you with us!

Catherine Collinson: It's great to be here.

Al Waller: This really is a timely subject. So, I'm interested in just what your research team has uncovered on the topic.

Catherine Collinson: Home is where the heart is! My team and I recently conducted a survey and we found that the vast majority of people of all ages, 86 percent, say that it is important to them to remain in their own home as they get older – and 64 percent say that it is very important.

Al Waller: Well, gallows humor, I know a lot of people have often said that the only way they intend on leaving their homes is to be carried out in a pine box.

Seriously, I think your findings are right on point. And to offer a personal aside, my parents decided to move from their colonial for a Cape Cod when they were still in their mid-40’s. Their thinking was to have their bedroom, as well as their laundry room, right on the first floor – which would significantly reduce the need to climb or descend stairs – enabling them to live in their home almost until the end.

To that point, my wife and I actually took a page out of their playbook and made an identical move for the same reasons. Besides, the challenges of packing and moving are really not so appealing.

Could you share some other reasons why people choose to stay in place?

Catherine Collinson: People are comfortable and familiar with their own homes. That's where they have gatherings with family and friends. Often, people are tied in with their community, their neighbors, and engaging in local organizations whether it's community organizations or places of worship – our homes are much more than that. That's a big reason that people want to stay in their homes.

Other reasons include not wanting to lose their independence. When we have our homes, we're independent – often moving into a retirement community is associated with some sort of loss of Independence.

I want to pick us back up to a bright spot the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has done a lot of research and compiled a lot of research and finds that staying in one's home actually can have physical and emotional benefits.

Al Waller: By personal experience, I know that my parents found that way, but I have to support that, especially if you have that desire, the cost of assisted living in a retirement community can be pretty expensive. In the case of my mother, who towards the end she was really in a wonderful place – but at the same time, I actually witnessed a 30% increase in costs in just over a two-year period.

To that point, according to Genworth’s annual “Cost of Care” research here in the Baltimore area, the average price for assisted living is $4,750 per month. That's not insignificant. For some, there's an obviously decided advantage and an incentive to stay in their home, right?

Catherine Collinson: Indeed. Depending on your situation, aging in place could be more affordable in the long run. This is particularly true for people who own their homes and have paid off their mortgages.

Another way that aging in place might be more affordable is if you live near family and friends who can pop in and help out from time to time – and offer that level of caregiving support that one might otherwise actually be paying for in some sort of assisted living type of environment.

Al Waller: In a perfect world, this all makes a lot of sense. But given we don't live in a perfect world, what are some other factors our listeners should consider when planning to age in place?

Catherine Collinson: The most obvious factor – and I think you mentioned it at the outset of the podcast – is stairs! As we get older, stairs get more and more challenging. One of the things, as you're thinking about aging in place, is the whole stair factor – or more precisely the lack of stairs so that you can easily get around.

Another big consideration is what types of home modifications there are going to be…some can be a lot more involved and a lot more expensive than others. So, is your home even suitable for making those types of modifications?

Then a last big consideration is the neighborhood. A neighborhood that we love in our 40’s – by the time we're in our 80’s could change. That's something to really stay on top of. Some neighborhoods stay the same. But zoning laws are known to change, and that could impact whether it's a neighborhood that you want to stay in or that is safe to stay in over the long haul.

Al Waller: Those are some really great observations, Catherine, and let’s face it, nobody has a crystal ball. Looking down the road, it's really important to know your options because there may come a time when you'll need assistance with say, transportation or shopping, cooking and cleaning as well, right?

Catherine Collinson: Indeed! As we've seen in the pandemic there are some bright spots, but we've really seen the power of technology – technologies that were available before but just hadn't come into their own.

A couple of examples – video conferencing. Can you imagine a pandemic without video conferencing and without being able to connect with your loved ones? That has been a lifeline for us through these difficult times.

Telemedicine is another one. For people to be able to connect with their doctors virtually in a video conference situation versus having to pack up and travel across town and park and do all those things to go visit the doctor, this has been especially important for older individuals when getting around is more difficult.

There are also all sorts of technologies that can augment caregivers. I'll call them “invisible helping hands” that can help in some sort of emergency situation. I don't know that we want to say, “Alexa, help! I need help!” But those who have Alexa, that's possible. Even things like watches and biometric devices that can detect falls and send a call for help. Those are really big deals and we're going to see these innovations just get better and better over time.

Then the last one I'll leave you with, which haven't quite come into their own but they're getting there fast – is robots. I don't know that we'll get to the point where we're like the Jetsons and every house has a robot, but we could. There's lots of innovation going on in robotics to support aging in place from helping out with chores and activities to even virtual pets as a source of companionship – a dog that you don't need to take out. There are all sorts of things.

These are bright spots, and these are things that we have to look forward to

Al Waller: You're absolutely right and these are great examples – just listening to you thinking back to The Jetsons with Rosie, the robotic maid or maybe a little something more contemporary.

Could we possibly take a look at some lower tech and perhaps maybe a little more affordable home modifications that might also enhance one's ability to age in place?

Catherine Collinson: Let me share with you 5 quick and easy home modifications suggested by the USC Davis School of Gerontology. These really are for the most part quick and easy, or at least as quick and easy as a home modification could be. We know that's a relative situation.

1. Secure support. For example: a shower seat and grab bars

2. Light it up. Replace old bulbs with brighter ones. Place nightlights where you need them because poor lighting is a leading cause of falls.

3. Have a seat. Use a chair to make dressing easier. Have a chair handy when you get dressed so you can sit down versus balancing and maintaining your balance while you're getting dressed.

4. Clear the way. Reduce obstacles to getting around the house & forgo area rugs that could be slippery. Remove obstacles and clutter that are easily tripped over. Streamline and get them out of harm's way.

5. Store for success. Keep items you often reach for between waist and shoulder height. This one is so powerful for people of all ages. In your home storage, whether it's your kitchen or your closets or your bathrooms, the things that you need to access most frequently – make them the most easily accessible so that you don't have to reach high or climb a ladder or bend over too far. Store items where they're easiest to get to.

Al Waller: It's interesting you bring that up because we're going through some remodeling in our home right now – just planning for down the road to make things a little bit easier and safer.

One of the things was with our master bathroom. We put in the walk-in shower and jettisoned the tub. I think that makes a lot of sense. On top of that, what we're doing right now is with our kitchen/den area.

We're moving up the washer and dryer to the first floor. This way, the bedroom is on the first floor. The washer and dryer are right there. Who wants to be going up and down those stairs as we talked about before? There's danger there, for sure. Actually, one of the other things is getting those stacked washer and dryer so that they're right at the shoulder level or waist level so you're not bending down to try to pick things up like that.

All these things, no matter how old you are, just to make life a little bit easier on those joints – I think it makes a lot of sense. At the end of the day, any age is good to simplify your life as I said and enhance your safety.

Catherine, is there anything else we should consider before we wrap things up today?

Catherine Collinson: Well, of course there is a common theme that we talk about a lot on the show and that is “do your homework.”

We've talked a lot about home structure and physical home modifications. There's a couple of other really important things to factor. I'll start with having conversations with family and friends. Ultimately, we'll need them to help support our visions and of course, we want to help support their visions as well. So, as you're thinking through an aging in place plan, it's important to keep those who you are closest with in your life in the loop, especially if there's any expectations of needing some sort of support or if you're providing some sort of support to them, that you may or may not be able to continue in the future.

The other big part of doing your homework is the financial aspects. All of this requires careful financial planning and budgeting. It costs money. While doing your homework you may find there are some important trade-offs on the way – some things may be more expensive than expected, and others you may actually save money. But you won't find that out until you have done your homework and put pen to paper or created that excel spreadsheet or whatever it is that you use for your planning and budgeting to really figure all that out.

Al Waller: As the boy scouts were fond of saying, “be prepared.” I think what it really comes down to is keeping those open lines of communication open, making sure that you're talking amongst each other – with your parents or children, depending upon the side – and making sure that you look at these with eyes wide open. I think should you not do that, you could really be running into some serious trouble down the road, and obviously we don't want that.

Catherine, this has been extremely insightful and here's hoping the information we've touched on will help those who are contemplating the decisions on where to live later in life, as well as their family members who are helping and could very well be impacted by that decision down the line.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s Partner Content and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org.

We hope you’ll join us for future episodes, including the upcoming episode dedicated to International Women’s Day. Also, in case you missed it, check out recent episodes on heart-healthy habits and avoiding surprise medical bills.

We’d love to hear from you if you have comments, feedback, or topics you want to learn more about. Contact us at [email protected].

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Catherine Collinson is the founding president and CEO of nonprofit Transamerica Institute and its Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, and she is a champion for Americans who are at risk of not achieving a financially secure retirement. With two decades of retirement industry-related experience, Catherine is a nationally recognized voice on workforce, aging, and retirement trends. She was named a 2018 Influencer in Aging by PBS’ Next Avenue. In 2016, she was honored with a Hero Award from Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) for her tireless efforts in helping improve retirement security among women.