Jul 8, 2015

Should "Aging at Home" always be the gold standard for the golden years?

Ask people where they wish to grow old and the answer almost always is, at home. Aging in place has become the gold standard for the golden years, offering familiarity, continuity and comfort. 

And yet... growing old in your own home may turn out to be less comfortable than some think. In my many years of counseling families with aging parents, I have discovered that aging in place can have a darker side. It can be lonely, limiting, non-stimulating and even physically unhealthy. 

I recently ran across two articles about this issue. In his recently released book, Aging in the Right Place, University of Florida Gerontology Professor Stephen Golant argues that at-home health care providers, sellers of reverse mortgages, and the home renovation industry have oversold the notion that remaining at home is always best. He contends that the decision to remain at home, based on emotional attachments, is often made without fully understanding the potential problems, which may include inability to get out of the house,  a hard-to-navigate or even dangerous home, and reliance on family members who may be overwhelmed and unable to meet their loved one's needs. Read more of Golant's views in this Washington Post article.

This topic was also addressed in a New York Times article published recently. Aptly titled, "At Home, Many Seniors are Imprisoned by Their Independence," the article describes the day-to-day lives of seniors who have become effectively homebound as they "age in place." Read the article here.

Of course, I am not advocating not staying at home. And I completely understand the deep resistance most people have to moving, especially later in life. I am merely pointing out that the at-home choice should not be a knee-jerk reaction. Many factors must be evaluated, including health issues, proximity to family, the ability of the family or others to provide caregiving, the layout of the home, a family's financial circumstances, and more. Sometimes an assisted living environment, or even a nursing home, can do more, and better, for an older person.

We all want our aging loved ones to be healthy and happy, but we must be mindful that "aging in place," a comforting notion, is not always the best option for everyone.

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