Home care for seniors continues to become more popular than it was 10 years ago, let alone a generation ago. As assisted living costs increase, so does the desire of the elderly and disabled to reside in an independent living environment; to age in place in their own homes, not some retirement community. Non-medical home care costs have been in line with institutional care for some time now, so why don’t more families choose independent living over nursing homes and retirement communities? The answer in many cases is that their homes were not designed to be accessible to seniors, the frail, or persons with disabilities. Although Adaptive technologies to help senior citizens age in place are increasing every day, understanding universal design, or accessible design, means understanding our entire environment. Adaptive and assistive technologies inside the home are only the first part of the equation. The second part is our community, both physical and social.
In order for a community to support its citizens as they age in place, the physical environment is paramount. Is it walkable? Communities that are successful in caring for their elders will answer this question, “Yes!” Are there supportive businesses nearby like a dry cleaner, cafe, grocery store, restaurant, or exercise gym with programs for seniors? What about a library, post office, church or community center? In many places the resources are there, but there are physical obstacles like roads. In Bethesda, Maryland this barrier was overcome with a variety of tools. There is underground passage near the metro station that allows pedestrians to cross the six lane, divided Route 355, and an overpass on the similarly busy Old Georgetown Road. The Bethesda 8 Trolley offers free rides all week long and circulates through much of the city. Even in places where it is too costly or unrealistic to build an overpass, municipalities can easily increase length of time of walk signals to allow senior citizens, a parent with two kids in a stroller, or someone on crutches to safely cross the street. That’s the beauty of universal design. It helps everybody.
As heard on the Kojo Nnamdi Show last week, Aging in Place Villages or communities like The Palisades in Washington, DC and the Bannockburn Community’s ‘Neighbors Assisting Neighbors’ nearby in Maryland, have taken a little more grassroots approach. In the Palisades when you join as a paying member you can call one phone number to request a variety of services performed by volunteers for free. Things such as major home repairs, home inspections and home health care for seniors provided by third party companies may be charged at a reduced rate. In Bannockburn they address the needs of their residents with volunteers too, emphasizing an intergenerational approach. Services can be arranged through the website Lotsahelpinghands.com.
The importance of the social aspect cannot be understated. From our own experience at Care for You over the past 14 years, we have seen a number of our clients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia who enter nursing homes quickly deteriorate and die. When your memory is already impaired and you are suddenly taken out of your familiar surroundings, it deals a death blow to your soul. The value of being recognized at local businesses and feeling like a part or your community and neighborhood is truly something we all need. To quote Louis Tenenbaum, a leading authority on Aging in Place, “It requires a custom model of care that is about YOU. Aging in Place is based in the sanctity of dignity, respect and control- independence, your home is your castle. These important human and American values are almost impossible to maintain in the dehumanizing, medical model of ‘senior housing’.”