Many years ago, having just completed our graduate program, my husband and I began looking for a home in Berkeley, California. One open-house experience that has stayed with me over twenty years, was the image of an elderly man, connected to tubes and machines, laying in a railed-hospital bed in a downstairs, converted bedroom of his home.
Though the presenting agent did her best to politely warn and prepare visitors, the overwhelming feeling was sadness and awkwardness, as the only way to see the remainder of the first floor was to walk through the converted room. We could not help but feel that we had impersonally intruded upon his privacy, during a grave chapter in his life.
The Goal of Aging in Place (AiP)
When I see or hear the term Aging in Place (AiP), the image of the ailing man from the open house immediately flashes into my mind. Though I don’t believe that the intent of AiP is meant to be pushed to this extreme, the aim is that one would prefer to remain in one’s own home, while being as comfortable, functional and safe as possible. The US Center for Diseases Control (CDC) defines Aging in Place as: “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level”.
The topic of Aging in Place came up once again, when recently viewing the poignant movie, Still Mine, (2012). The plot centers on an elderly, retired, and highly resourceful man, who battles local authorities, as he attempts to quickly design and build a custom home for the unique needs of his rapidly aging and deteriorating wife. The movie is extremely touching, as it expertly captures the profound desire of an aging person wanting to live in the residence of one’s choice, and on one’s own terms. The film also realistically balances outbursts of stubbornness and defiance, with gradual and courageous acceptance of necessary adjustments and sacrifices. The story also underscores how not having sufficient time for planning and preparation can make a challenging situation maddeningly frustrating.
Factors to Consider for Aging in Place
Whether you are planning for yourself or an elderly loved-one, there are several factors to consider when planning your living arrangements for this later stage of life. Finances and legal planning should be at the top of the list. Like most planning, early exploration is best, as it can lead to more options, manageable changes over time, and a more positive overall experience.
Finances for Aging in Place
According to a survey conducted by American Financing, a national mortgage banker, 44% of Americans between the ages 60 to 70, still have some type of mortgage when they retire. This same survey also found that 64% of American homeowners, age 60-70, plan to remain in their current home, which implies many homeowners may lack sufficient equity to cover future Aging in Place expenses. Moreover, only 63% of the American Financing survey participants believed that their savings would cover necessary home renovations should their health needs dictate a modification of some kind. According to the MetLife Report on Aging in Place 2.0, the cost to design and modify a one-story home is on average $9,000-$12,000. These homeowners, especially, need to begin planning their future finances now, in order to remain in their home with appropriate assistance and infrastructure in place.
This article addresses what you can do today to improve this outlook, starting with readily-available technologies.
Technology Today Can Help Offset Future Health Infrastructure Needs
The aging process affects our eyesight, mobility, hearing, reflexes, and strength, which are just a few abilities that we need to be self-sufficient. With these inevitabilities in mind, we recommend starting the process of adopting existing technologies that can help mitigate these effects, well in advance of experiencing any major health setbacks. Investing in technology for your home today, to offset any future health related deficiencies, will allow you to benefit now and in the future. This adoption process involves Universal Design, which is an important design approach to consider for any home improvement project.
Universal Design (UD) is the design of a product or place so that they are useable by all people to the greatest extent possible without special adaption. An example of this would be Closed Captioning. Originally, Closed Captioning was designed to assist the hearing impaired. However, UD illustrates that it is used by many people in bars, restaurants, airports or in bed, while your spouse is sound asleep next to you. The tangential benefits of UD are often unexpected, but useful to a larger population than the originally intended beneficiaries. When you consider your next remodel, consider designing for AiP using the concept of Universal Design, especially with technology in mind.
There are many technologies available today that help fulfill the concept of AiP, which relate to the concept of Universal Design. Introducing these technologies in your home today, is a smart way to begin “retrofitting” your existing residence in preparation for AiP comfort and safety. Not only will you gain the “universal” benefit of the devices today, but these same products will benefit an aging homeowner by augmenting abilities that have deteriorated over time. Proactively adopting these technologies early will also reduce the amount of change and lower learning curves necessary to adapt to future health challenges.
Smart Technologies for Both Young and Old
Adequate investment in home technology infrastructure is essential to take advantage of the myriad of devices and services that already exist. Currently, by simply using Wi-Fi-enabled smart devices, one is able to address needs in the following service categories: Health and Wellness; Safety and Security; Meal and Grocery Delivery Services; Medical Care and Emergency Services; Transportation; and Social and Entertainment Offerings. A coordinated, comprehensive and collaborative network of businesses and service providers can provide the right environment to support AiP. Call it “Aging in Place with Technology (AiPwT)”.
Health and Wellness
There are a number of devices in widespread use today that monitor one’s daily wellness, and alert the user of any impending medical episodes or conditions. These applications are used by all ages to monitor and track progress of various aspects of their physical health. Examples of popular wellness apps and products include: FitBit, a fitness smart watch; Sleep Number’s 360 Smart Bed, which monitors your heart rate, respiration and the quality of your night’s rest; and various fitness apps to ensure that you follow a routine of exercise and healthy nutrition. When used by seniors, these applications can help monitor elderly persons who wish to Age in Place, with alerts sent to a support network or guardian, and emergency services, should certain set thresholds become breached.
Overall comfort for the home environment can be controlled through the use of smart thermostat systems. Applications by Honeywell and Nest allow users to adjust the home’s climate and environment (e.g. lighting, window shades, and entertainment media) from the comfort of one’s bed. Smart thermostat systems, which can be controlled by your smart phone or any enabled Wi-Fi device, are quickly becoming standard features in homes.
Safety and Security
Products such as the Nest and Ring doorbell monitors are a must for anyone concerned about safety and security in their home. These devices give you extra security by recording and monitoring your perimeter, as well as sending alerts triggered by motion sensors. Seniors will find comfort in knowing that there is no need to open the door to strangers, as these devices allow you to communicate directly from your smart device.
Meal and Grocery Delivery Services
Once a service only for the affluent, grocery services are becoming mainstream. Major grocery chains, like Gelson’s, Whole Foods, Safeway/Vons, and Kroger, have been offering grocery delivery to customers for several years. Prepared food delivery via aggregator apps, such as DoorDash, Postmates, Home Chef and HelloFresh, are found in almost every city. Seniors can request specialty meals, such as low cholesterol, low salt, or kosher, with just a tap of the app.
Medical Care and Emergency Services
Medical home services or “telemedicine” is becoming widespread with over ten applications currently available for iPhones and Androids, alone. These apps allow fast, convenient, around-the-clock access to licensed physicians and specialists, while offering live chat or video on the app’s secure platform. Seniors can have medications prescribed and delivered without ever having to leave the comfort and safety of their homes. Apps to schedule in-home occupational, physical and respiratory therapy treatments are available, as well.
PERS (Personal Emergency Response Services)
A more advanced direct connection for emergency purposes is known as a Personal Emergency Response System or PERS. Companies such as Medical Guardian, Medical Alert and ADT offer auto-dial speakerphone capability installed in the home, which can be activated during an episode or event. The resident wears a device, either a bracelet, pendant or pin, that when pressed will reach a 24-hour live call center. A responder obtains the pertinent information through the previously installed speakerphone and relays the information to the correct parties, e.g.: caregiver; medical personnel; family; or neighbors.
Services such as Uber, Lyft and HopSkipDrive are household names in the ride share transportation arena and have over 2 million drivers across the United States. They have also begun addressing the large and unique market opportunity that seniors represent. Seniors who have lost driving privileges or who choose not to operate a motor vehicle, can still conveniently venture out safely through elderly specific apps and programs. For example, GoGoGrandparent, a phone based rideshare company, notifies family and loved ones by text should you wish to monitor your elderly passenger. Their website states that they want to let folks live in their home for as long as possible, and that their service was inspired by a grandmother who had glaucoma in both eyes.
Social and Entertainment Offerings
Aging in Place doesn’t mean seniors have to be permanently homebound, in isolation, either. Social and “meetup” apps can allow even incapacitated seniors to interact socially and stay connected with the outside world by chat or live video, or by arranging meetups in home with more mobile individuals. Sites such as Silver Singles, Our Time and Zoosk specifically provide relationship building for retired and senior patrons.
Additionally, staying fit mentally is extremely important as one ages. Brain training sites such as Lumosity, are an excellent way to keep mental faculties sharp by engaging seniors through analytical exercises consisting of games and puzzles. Though the site can be used by those who are struggling with memory loss, it is also helpful to persons of all ages, as it addresses five key areas of the brain: Memory, Attention, Speed, Flexibility, and Problem Solving.
Seniors Thrive in the Right Environments
It is important to recognize that seniors thrive in environments that provide independence, control, dignity and respect. The ability to live in surroundings that have provided years of comfort, fond memories and fulfillment is the preferred choice of the majority of senior homeowners and the main objectives of AiP. With little or no mortgage and the right tools in place to ensure comfort, security, and access to any needed services, seniors today are in a better position to realize the AiP vision, for as long as they desire. Remaining in an environment of one’s choice, as we age, is becoming more possible with today’s technological offerings, which has allowed us to change the way we think about aging and the concept of Aging in Place with Technology (AiPwT). Technological advances can help afford us a life that is independent, happier and more satisfying, and on one’s own terms. The links below will help you get started.