Getting older comes with many changes in life, especially when it comes to a loved one’s capacity to continue independent living. For 78-81% of Australians aged over 55, remaining in the comfort of their own home after retiring is one of the most important parts of their ageing life. This concept of remaining in contact with the larger community while practising independent living is known as ‘ageing in place’. This practice is often supported by residential aged care facilities to help maintain the welfare of Australia’s elderly populace.
What is ageing in place?
Ageing in place works to help an older person maintain their life at home, rather than resettling them in assisted care, so long as they have a measure of independent living abilities. This means that, even with the physical and mental impacts of old age, the elderly individual can still enjoy the comfort of their own space, their own schedule, as well as continued interactions with their local community.
However, ageing in place does not necessarily apply to just the home that an older person was living in, but any dwelling that is not within a nursing home. The ‘place’ in question may be among family members, or within a residential aged care facility modelled to reflect a home-like environment.
In order for ageing in place to be safe, a lot of forethought and planning needs to be completed beforehand. This is especially true for those who require aid for physical or cognitive impairments. This may mean outfitting their space with supportive measures such as:
- Physical mobility aids
- Fall alert devices
- Virtual assistants
- Home support services
- Health insurance
As long as there is an established safety net and their well-being is assured, most elderly individuals can live out the rest of their retirement under the practice of ageing in place.
What are the benefits of ageing in place?
There are many benefits to retirees choosing to try ageing in place. For many older people, independence is something they strive to maintain even after retirement, and the effects of old age begin to become long-lasting. Ageing in place allows them to exercise their independence, as well as enjoy the other benefits that come from living in an established space.
It is not uncommon for many older people to have lived in the same house for many years before their retirement. They have worked hard to make their space a home they feel safe and comfortable in. Ageing in place recognises the need for familiarity, whether it is for the immediate environment or the local community.
For those who may deal with cognitive impairments that come with old age, such as early signs of dementia, living in a familiar space can be soothing. It often maintains a sense of security that is heightened when the home is integrated into the lives of family and friends. Furthermore, remaining in a familiar neighbourhood can also encourage continued engagement with the community at large, promoting social experiences and maintaining positive mental health.
The connection to others in the neighbourhood can be a great help to any retiree looking to begin ageing in place, with the benefits of lifestyle activities being undeniable. While these connections, and those to family and friends, can greatly lower the risk of someone in the older age cohort developing anxiety or depression, they are not the only connections that should be maintained.
It is easier for older Australians to regularly make use of health services like doctors and dentists if they continue living in their own homes or neighbourhoods. They are much more likely to seek out other necessary services, such as hairdressers or physical activity facilities, if they have been regularly seeing the same faces for many years. While many retirement villages still grant access to such facilities in the form of lifestyle services, having existing connections can create a sense of security and promote continued independence.
The key benefit for retirees to practise ageing in place is independence, as living in your own space and being capable of setting up your own schedule creates a greater sense of freedom. Many older people prefer living outside of professional care as they can exercise their self-reliance and freely explore the hobbies and activities that will enhance their daily experiences.
If an elderly person can successfully live alone, that sense of achievement can greatly bolster their mental and physical well-being, making their twilight years an experience they can enjoy to the fullest.
Research shows that most elderly residents want to continue living in their own domicile or with family. This desire to remain in their own home is likely to be due to the sense of security that a familiar setting brings, especially if you have been living there for several years or decades.
Ageing in place maintains this sense of security by simply emphasising the need for home maintenance and the possibility of hiring some personal care services to help maintain independence. Otherwise, it is believed that maintaining the safety that residents feel in their own homes is integral to allowing them to continue living a happy and secure life.
It can be easier to create good support networks if you are living in the same neighbourhood and already have family and friends nearby. While residential aged care facilities allow for visiting hours, those are often set times that must be scheduled beforehand. Living independently allows for flexible visits whenever needed, including those from support services such as doctors or in-home care.
For those who have continuously visited the same doctor or other health services, that professional relationship can be maintained under ageing in place. This means that there is no need to reestablish medical history or treatments under new health services as would likely happen if they were moved to residential aged care.
Factors to consider for ageing in place
Ageing in place requires significant planning before its implementation. Each individual will have their own factors that can alter what is needed for successful independence. Whether it is their own capabilities, the structure of their home, or the affordability of health and care services, all factors need to be considered when planning for ageing in place to ensure quality care and support.
Current stage in life
The stage of life that your loved one is in when considering ageing in place can greatly affect how the practice should be undertaken. Those who have just retired and are able-bodied are most likely to find it easy to undertake ageing in place. However, older individuals who need to make considerations for their health issues will need to make some necessary adjustments to their home.
Introducing mobility aids, removing obstacles, and incorporating innovative technology are just a few methods that can make living at home independently easier for many. It is also vital to consider the layout of the home in relation to current and future stages in life:
- Is the house capable of optimal temperatures no matter the season?
- Are there stairs?
- Is the house accessible?
- How big is the house and is it too large to maintain independently?
- Can all of the cupboards and assorted storage be reached without assistance?
In the case that the original home is not suitable for current or future stages in life, ageing in place is still possible. This is done by moving into an age-friendly home, or a retirement village that promotes independence.
Beyond just the home itself and its suitability for ageing individuals, its location is also important to consider for ageing in place. The home’s location should make it easy to stay in touch with family members and friends, or at least allow new social networks to be created if moving is necessary.
Maintaining independence also means that the home should have easy access to necessary services such as public transport and health care. It should not be difficult for regular tasks such as grocery shopping or scheduled social interaction to be performed. Experiencing restrictions to basic tasks such as these can negatively affect your loved one’s means of leading a fulfilling life.
It is not uncommon for support services to become necessary as we age, especially for those who have complex health issues that affect their everyday capabilities. However, this does not mean that residential care is their only option. With the right preparation, living at home can be possible even when there are health factors affecting basic tasks such as cleaning or home maintenance.
Fortunately, the Australian government has increased its focus on ageing in place by providing more at-home care support, such as subsidised Home Care Packages. Private support services may also be used under health insurance to provide individuals with the necessary help they need to maintain their home and their well-being.
When choosing between ageing in place or living in residential aged care facilities, it is important to also factor in the costs of each means of living. When it comes to an elderly individual living in their own home, affordability is not just about mortgage payments or rent, but also about ongoing costs of repairs, insurance, and maintenance. In order for the space to remain accessible, additional costs may also be required for introducing mobility aids or support services.
However, the costs of moving into a retirement village must also be considered before the choice is made. Finding the right facility in terms of location, community, health services, and promoted independence can become costly very easily. Weighing up the affordability of both options can help you make an informed decision.
How to plan ahead to age in place
To accurately prepare for the change to ageing in place, you will need to cover planning for all potential obstacles and changes that may arise in the future. This may mean undertaking home modifications to help make the home accessible, given any health issues that your loved one is currently dealing with or is expected to in the future. Such modifications can include simple tasks such as installing medical alert systems, but may also require full room renovations to make spaces accessible for mobility aids.
You may also need to invest in at-home care services to help your loved one maintain their independence safely. This may mean you or other family members scheduling regular visits, or hiring a care worker in your stead. Since the home becomes a legal workplace once an individual is hired for at-home care, you must also ensure that all requirements for occupational health and safety measures are met before services can begin.
Speaking to a doctor or social services about what steps need to be taken for your loved one’s specific care can also help you best plan out their ageing in place. They are the experts when it comes to meeting the challenges that come with growing older. Therefore, their doctor will have all of their medical history available to create at-home measures you can take to ensure their continued well-being.
Taking the time to talk to others involved in your loved one’s process of ageing in place can also be beneficial. Whether that is other family members or members of the local community, they can help you plan ahead with greater accuracy. However, you should not forget to involve the actual person who will be living independently in their own home. It is important to support their autonomy and allow them the final say on how their lifestyle will continue. Ageing should be a positive experience for older people, therefore it is vital to help your loved one to achieve their happiness.
Tips for ageing in place
Many older Australians have already made the jump to ageing in place. Thus, there is a community already available to provide you and your loved one with the support and knowledge needed to begin the journey to independent living. Here are some general tips to comfortably and efficiently age in place:
- Be ready to offer help – It can be difficult to ask for help, especially when ageing is taking away some aspects of autonomy. It is important to be ready to provide help to your loved one whenever it is needed in a way that continues to respect their independence. This may entail bringing over a nutritious meal or offering to help them wash their hair.
- Hire support services as needed – Older people may require some professional support to help maintain their independence, which usually comes in the form of hiring a trained aide or live-in carer.
- Set up forms of money management – Automating bills, especially online, can ensure that there are no chances of missing payments for any household or medical obligations.
- Create meal-prep plans – Having a schedule for meals can help balance nutrition and regular feeding schedules. Whether that is cooking at home, eating meals served at a nearby senior community centre, or joining friends for a meal out.
- Organise regular social events – Having social events to look forward to can help maintain an older person’s mental and emotional well-being. This may also encourage them to get out of the house regularly to get fresh air and exercise.
- Set medication reminders – If your loved one requires regular medication, setting up a pill box for the week and setting alerts can help ensure that the right dose is taken on schedule.
- Guarantee safety – Refitting the house for accessibility can help ensure that there are no accidents happening at home, while an emergency alert system will call help in the case of an incident happening.
Independence plays a significant role in the health and well-being of all Australians, no matter their age. For those looking to retire, this independence is often imperative to grow older while remaining active in the community and happy with their daily life. Ageing in place affords older Australians the chance to exercise their independence throughout their retirement, while still having a support network in place to help them in any way possible.
If this option seems like the right step for you and your family, reach out to Banfields Aged Care for help in implementing ageing in place in Melbourne. There is a lot of living to do, and we are here to help make that happen. Give us a call on (03) 5951 2500 or contact us online with your enquiries on ageing in place.