Aging in place can come with a lot of benefits for seniors who are at or near retirement. In addition to being the major preference for older people, remaining at home can also come with cost savings for seniors when compared with an assisted living facility or nursing home.
However, the friends, family and other loved ones of a senior should remember the dangers that can come from social isolation, and work to avoid the pitfalls whenever possible, Eric Litwiller, the director of development and communications at the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas, wrote in a recent column published by National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate KMUW in Wichita.
“Many are seeking to age in place, staying in their home for as long as possible rather than relocate to a senior care home,” Litwiller said. “And while the appeal of such a decision is obvious, the logistic challenges merit consideration.”
Such challenges include whether mobility was a consideration for the builders of the senior’s home, whether the resident is able to make it to medical appointments or run errands, and if whether children are close enough to visit.
“If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no,’ then isolation and the associated mental health concerns become a nearly inescapable possibility,” he said.
Senior isolation has been linked with a number of health risks, including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and general cognitive decline. Research indicates that as little as 14 days of sustained isolation can have serious impacts on psychological health, even for younger, healthy adults.
“For all these reasons, it is vital for those aging in their golden years to have opportunities to remain social and active,” Litwiller said. “Things like senior companion or respite programs offered by a variety of mental health organizations and churches can be literal life-savers. And nearly every community has resources that allow such programs to be offered at no cost thanks to volunteers.”
Late last year, the New York Times reported on issues that seniors could face while living alone. As the number of older single adults living on their own increases, the more likely they are to experience housing challenges related to issues like maintenance and general upkeep.
The reverse mortgage industry has aimed to address these kinds of issues for borrowers by engaging in partnerships and launching renovation-specific verticals to ensure mobility issues are addressed.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has also discussed home renovations as a path to aging in place, in addition to providing renovation funding to low-income seniors on multiple occasions.