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Growing older, staying home

By KRISTI EATON

VIEW ON HEALTH

As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, planning where and how to spend life’s later years becomes an important decision.

Many are choosing to stay in their current homes or build a house where they can spend the remaining portion of their life. But with age comes health concerns that must be taken into consideration when attempting to “age in place.”

To “age in place” is to remain as independent as possible, including remaining in one’s own home. But to do so, precautions and preparations need to be considered.

“Simply remaining in one’s home for a lifetime is aging in place,” said Bill Foster, owner of Henderson-based Accessibility Services, Inc., an equipment provider and home design consultation business for people with disabilities. “Unfortunately, for a lifetime often means that their home kills them.”

It’s usually a fall that people are most susceptible to and need to worry about, noted Foster.

“The most essential and important changes that a person can make to their home is to remove the barriers,” he said, which means taking out the steps. If the steps can’t be removed, add handrails. Also, ensure the floor coverings are the same height to avoid tripping; add lighting throughout the house; and install a curbless shower in at least one bathroom.

As for when people should consider remodeling their home to age in place, Foster said it is never too early; whenever remodeling is taking place is the best time, he said, because it will be the cheapest.

“If it is done right, nobody will make the connection to aging in place; however, they will notice that the home is user-friendly,” he said.

TECHNOLOGY’S ROLE

Innovations in technology are allowing people greater accessibility and less restrictions as they get older.

There are several components to using technology to age in place, says Laurie Orlov, the founder of Aging in Place Technology, a market research firm.

They are: communication, home safety, learning, health and wellness.

Communication through email and social media is an important way to keep family members abreast of what is going on, she said. For those who are older and not accustomed to computers, Orlov said the best way to get them to use the computer is to actually show them how it is used, as opposed to simply suggesting they use it. Show them what all can be done with it, such as using Skype to talk with grandkids, and that others are using it, she said.

“It’s difficult to refuse peer pressure,” she added.

Falling is one of the biggest safety risks for older adults remaining in their home, Orlov noted, but there are many products available now that can quickly detect when an event occurs. Everyone has seen the Life Alert system that notifies emergency workers when someone wearing the system falls, but new personal emergency response systems such as myHalo are taking it one step further, Orlov said. A chest strap worn underneath clothing, myHalo transmits vital signs and other information, like a fall, through emails and text messages to family members and caregivers. Also, family members can keep track of an aging relative using GPS technology.

With thousands of Web sites dedicated to health and the advent of mobile phone applications, she said senior citizens are better able to keep up-to-date and track their individuals needs. For example, an iPhone application reminds people when they are to take their medication, and several Web sites monitor blood pressure results.

Finally, Orlov added, it is “absolutely critical” senior citizens keep their minds sharp through lifelong learning programs at a local college or library. Also, she recommended retirees visit www.RetiredBrains.com for help in finding jobs.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Remodeling and technology can help individuals remain in their homes, but there is much more to aging in place than simply renovating a home, says Penny Cuff, senior program officer for Partners for Livable Communities.

She says it involves every aspect of the community, like the local planning department, non-profit organizations and media outlets.

“It’s kind of like taking a village to raise a child. It takes the same village to help us all grow old,” she says. “It just requires everyones involvement. Just fixing your own home is only one tiny part. It maybe makes it possible to live in your home, but it doesn’t make it possible to walk outside your front door and that’s the difference. You need to be able to walk outside your front door and be a valuable member of the community.”

Since 2004, Partners for Livable Communities and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging have worked together on the Aging in Place Initiative, a program to assist communities in developing policies, programs and services to help age in place.

There are several communities components that need to be considered for people to be able to age in their homes, Cuff says, including transportation, housing options, healthcare, grocery stores with fresh produce and cultural events.

And, she adds, its important that communities realize it’s needed now.

“Because of the demographic of the aging population is changing so rapidly, it’s a good strategy to build around making places livable for older people because it’s going to happen. It’s a fact,” she says.

Since World War II, when the term “baby boomer” was introduced and a spike in the population was noticed, people foresaw that one day an increase in the number of senior citizens would occur, she says, adding that nobody really saw the urgency until recently to make the necessary accommodations.

Over the past two years, Partners for Livable Communities and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging hosted aging in place workshops in 12 locations across the country to educate the communities about the Aging in Place Initiative and understand the obstacles and benefits. Project grants were also available as part of the workshops. The 12 communities were:

* Chattanooga, Tenn.

* Wichita, Kan.

* Richmond, Va.

* San Antonio, Texas

* St. Louis, Mo.

* Miami

* Charlotte, N.C.

* Chicago

* San Diego, Calif.

* Kansas City, Mo.

* Arizona

* Tampa Bay, Fla.

Cuff cites Atlanta as having one of the most comprehensive community plans for aging in place. The regional approach, called Lifelong Communities, focuses on promoting housing and transportation options, encouraging healthy lifestyles choices and expanding information sources and services.

“People want to age in their own homes. They’re going to age in their own homes. And as citizens, as the rest of us in those communities, we need to make that possible,” Cuff said.

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