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Aging in Place – Tips from the National Institute on Aging

aging in placeYou may share the often heard wish, “I want to stay in my own home!” The good news is that with the right help you might be able to do just that. As part of the Federal Government’s National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) funds and conducts research related to aging, including how older people can remain independent.

These tips from the NIA introduce you to the kinds of help that you might want to consider so you can continue to live on your own. There are suggestions for free or low-cost help and ways to identify benefits that might be available to you. You can share this information with others in your family, and you can use it to begin talking about your needs, now and in the future.

What do I do first?

Planning ahead is hard because you never know how your needs might change. But, the first step is to think about the kinds of help you might want in the near future. Maybe you live alone, so there is no one living in your home who is available to help you. Maybe you don’t need help right now, but you live with a husband or wife who does. Everyone has a different situation, but one way to begin planning is to look at any illnesses like diabetes or emphysema that you or your spouse might have. Talk to your doctor about how these health problems could make it hard for someone to get around or take care of him or herself in the future. Help getting dressed in the morning, fixing a meal, or remembering to take medicine may be all you need to stay in your own home.

What kinds of help can I get?

You can get almost any type of help you want in your home, often for a cost. The following list includes some common things people need. You can get more information on many of these services from your local Area Agency on Aging, local and State offices on aging or social services, tribal organization, or nearby senior center.

Personal care. Is bathing, washing your hair, or dressing getting harder to do? Maybe a relative or friend could help. Or, you could hire a trained aide for a short time each day.

Homemaking. Do you need help with chores like housecleaning, yard work, grocery shopping, or laundry? Some grocery stores and drug stores will take your order over the phone and bring the items to your home. There are cleaning services you can hire, or maybe someone you know has a housekeeper to suggest. Some housekeepers will help with laundry. Some dry cleaners will pick up and deliver your clothes.

Meals. Worried that you might not be eating nutritious meals or tired of eating alone? Sometimes you could share cooking with a friend or have a potluck dinner with a group of friends. Find out if meals are served at a nearby senior center, church, or synagogue. Eating out may give you a chance to visit with others. Is it hard for you to get out? Ask someone to bring you a healthy meal a few times a week. Also, meal delivery programs bring hot meals into your home.

Money management. Do you worry about paying bills late or not at all? Are health insurance claim forms confusing? Maybe you can get help with these tasks. Ask a trusted relative to lend a hand. Volunteers, financial counselors, or geriatric care managers can also help. Just make sure you get the referral from a trustworthy source, like your local Area Agency on Aging.

If you are familiar with computers, you could pay your bills online. Check with someone at your bank about this option. Some people have their regular bills, like utilities and rent or mortgage, paid automatically from their checking account.

Be careful to avoid money scams. Never give your Social Security number, credit card account numbers, or bank account numbers to someone on the phone (unless you placed the call) or in response to an email you receive on your computer. Always check all bills, including utility bills, for charges you do not recognize. Even though you might not need it now, think about giving someone you trust permission to discuss your bills with creditors or your Social Security or Medicare benefits with those agencies. Or, you could give overall permission to handle a variety of legal matters for you in the form of a durable power of
attorney. “Durable” means the permission remains in effect if you cannot make decisions yourself, but you can change the power of attorney or cancel it at any time.

Health care. Do you forget to take your medicine? There are devices available to remind you when it is time for your next dose. Special pill boxes allow you or someone else to set out your pills for an entire week. Have you just gotten out of the hospital and still need nursing care at home for a short time? The hospital discharge planner can help you make arrangements for a home health aide to come to your home. If you can’t remember what the doctor told you to do, try to have someone go to your doctor visits with you. Ask them to write down everything you are supposed to do, or if you are by yourself, ask the doctor to put all recommendations in writing.

assistive technology products for the bathProducts to make life easier. Is it getting harder to turn a door knob or put on your socks? Devices are available to make daily activities easier. The Department of Education’s website, www.abledata.com, has information on more than 30,000 assistive technology products designed to make it easier for people to do things for themselves. If you don’t use a computer, you can call 1-800-227-0216 (toll-free) to learn more.

Getting around at home and in town. Are you having trouble walking? Perhaps a walker would help. If you need more, think about getting an electric chair or scooter. These are sometimes covered by Medicare. Do you need someone to go with you to the doctor or shopping? Volunteer escort services may be available. If you no longer drive a car, check if there are free or low-cost public transportation and taxis in your area. Maybe a relative, friend, or neighbor would take you along when they go on errands or do yours for you.

Activities and friends. Are you bored staying at home? Your local senior center offers a variety of activities. You might see friends there and meet new people too. Is it hard for you to leave your home? Maybe you would enjoy visits from someone.  Volunteers, called “Friendly Visitors,” “Senior Volunteers,” or “Senior Companions,” are sometimes available to stop by or call once a week. They can just keep you company, or you can talk about any problems you are having. Call your local Area Agency on Aging to see if they are available near you.

Safety. Are you worried about crime in your neighborhood, physical abuse, or losing money as a result of a scam? Talk to the staff at your local Area Agency on Aging. Do you live alone, and are you afraid of becoming sick with no one around to help? You might want to get an emergency alert system. You just push a special button that you wear, and emergency medical personnel are called. A monthly fee is charged.

Housing. Would a few changes make your home easier and safer to live in? Think about things like a ramp at front door, grab bars in the tub or shower, nonskid floors, more comfortable handles on doors or faucets, and better insulation. Sound expensive? You might be able to get help paying for these changes. Check with your local or State Area Agency on Aging, State housing finance agency, welfare department, community development groups, or the Federal Government.

These are just a few tips from the National Institute on Aging’s fact sheet There’s No Place Like Home—For Growing Old
Tips from the National Institute on Aging.  Next week we will look at where you can find help in your local community and how to plan financially for a time when you might need more help.

Parts of this article are reprinted from the National Institutes of Health publication There’s No Place Like Home—For Growing Old Tips from the National Institute on Aging.

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