It isn’t easy to get old. It’s not even easy to think about how growing old will change your ability to care for yourself or someone you love. But the reality is that many people will face health or monetary issues that will impact their ability to stay in their own home. With careful planning, aging in place is possible, though, if you make some preparations before help is needed.
Things to Consider:
One way to start this process is to consider any illnesses that you or your spouse have or may eventually suffer from. Diabetes, mobility issues, failing eyesight or hearing, and other common aging ailments can make personal care increasingly difficult. Your physician may have advice about the types of support that are available to you, as well as which ones might become necessary down the road.
Even without a diagnosable ailment, personal care can get harder as you age. Blow dryers aren’t light, after all, and eventually those little pill boxes can’t hold all the medications that you need to remember to take. Whether you want to enlist a family member or friend to occasionally help you, or you think a part-time aide might be necessary, these are some of the scenarios you want to think about. In addition to someone helping with daily tasks, you may want to consider asking a family member or friend to be a health advocate — someone who can attend doctor’s appointments with you and help you keep track of medications and other medical necessities. At the very least, ask your doctor if instructions can be provided in written form so that it’s easier to check back and remember things that were discussed.
Taking care of your home:
If you’re currently able to do most of the things that are necessary to run a household and care for yourself, think honestly about the tasks that are getting harder to do. Will that lawn and those gardens you’ve spent years maintaining become too physically demanding ten years down the road? What about clearing snow? Would you be able to cook for yourself if something happens to your spouse? Will keeping the house clean be too big a job?
It might seem silly, but researching options for when these tasks get too arduous is a great idea to do ahead of time. Money could be a limiting factor, as house cleaners, landscapers, and meal prep options can get costly, but they are often worth every penny. Alternatively, consider what is available in your community. Senior centers and houses of worship are often a great resource for affordable meals (with friendly company, too!) They can also help provide contacts for local teens who are looking to pick up some chores for lower pay than a big company service.
Many aging-in-place concerns can be addressed by making minor alterations to your home now. Adding ramps and railings to entryways, placing grab bars in showers, and even changing handles on doors and faucets for arthritic joints can make a big difference. If stairs are increasingly challenging, a chair lift for a stairway could be a solution. These alterations can be costly, but there are ways to go about getting help funding them. The National Institute on Aging recommends that you check with your local area Agency on Aging, state housing finance agency, welfare departments, community development groups, or even your insurance for grants and other ways of reducing personal cost.
Money management is a delicate area to address but one that can’t be ignored. If you’re not the one in the house who handles the bills now, it’s important to realize that you could be the one handling them in the future. The good news is that there are plenty of people you can ask for help. If there isn’t a trusted friend or family member available (or willing), financial counselors, geriatric care managers, and even local volunteers can help you navigate these tasks.
It will also be immensely helpful to get all your paperwork in order as much as possible. Prepare a “When I Die” file or folder, where you can keep important documents and financial information all in one place in case of a medical emergency. Add the name of a trusted person to any important accounts. That way, whoever needs to handle your assets or assist you in navigating bill payments will have an easier time understanding the financial situation.
It’s no secret that with failing eyesight and slowing reflexes, advanced age and driving can become trickier as we age. This can make things particularly challenging if the home you want to stay in is not in a place where public transit is well-established or safe to ride. In addition to researching options for getting things delivered to your home — which became increasingly available during the Covid era — think about ways you can get around without having to drive. Is there a friend, spouse, or family member willing and able to help you run a few errands? The Institute on Aging says that there are volunteer escorts that could help and that it’s a good idea to contact Eldercare at 800-677-1116 to learn about available ride resources in your community.
How Do I Afford All Of This?
Ideally, you won’t have to pay for all of these accommodations out of pocket, but if that does become the case it might still be cheaper than moving into assisted living or a long-term care facility. Be sure to discuss what things might be covered with your health insurance provider and Medicare. Websites like Benefits.gov and BenefitsCheckUp are great resources for researching which benefits you might qualify for. In addition, if you qualify for benefits from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, you could be eligible for home medical care, home health aide services, adult day health care, and even hospice (visit www.va.gov to find out more.) Knowing the costs for the help you may need later on can help you budget ahead, as well as alleviate the anxiety of feeling as if there’s a huge cost looming in your future.