While the average life span continues to get longer year after year, one fact remains: everyone is aging. At some point, even the healthiest seniors will likely begin to have trouble performing activities of daily living (ADLs). ADLs are routine tasks that include getting in and out of bed, bathing, getting dressed, and preparing meals. As daily life becomes more difficult, an aging senior should ask, “What’s my plan?”
Adult children and families of seniors should look out for red flags that may mean their loved one needs help. Some common signs are social isolation, poor nutrition, trouble with ADLs, and creating (or failing to avoid) home safety hazards (i.e. a curling iron left on next to curtains, stove eyes left on, etc). Children should also ask themselves what their long-term plans are for their aging parents. When difficulty with ADLs occurs due to aging, there are a few common responses to consider.
One common response is having an aging loved one move in with children or other relatives. According to the American Community Survey, 9 percent of seniors live in a household headed by their relatives. In 2010, there were 7.1 million multi-generational households in the United States – and that number continues to grow. This option happens frequently because it can be more financially feasible for an aging person. Some also see it as a good bonding exercise for their family.
However, more and more adult children are becoming a part of the “sandwich generation”– middle-aged adults who support an aging parent as well as grown children. Adding a senior to a household often creates a financial burden on the family. It also adds new family dynamics – for example, it may be hard for an aging mother to live with her daughter, who is a mother herself. Given that care needs of seniors frequently increase over time, resources and time of the adult child can easily become exhausted
If a senior wants to “age in place” and remain in his or her home, hiring an in-home caregiver can be a great option. Professional caregivers are trained to provide help with ADLs, and can also be a companion for seniors living alone. However, the costs of an in-home caregiver can add up. The national average cost for in-home care starts at around $18 per hour, according to Care Scout. Many seniors may only need help for a few hours a day, but some need 24-hour care. Seniors and their families should think about how to cover the cost of a caregiver if need be. Options like long-term care insurance and Veterans’ pension programs can help pay for in-home care needs, needs which would otherwise quickly exhaust a senior’s savings.
An alternative to having an in-home caregiver is an assisted-living community. There are many different styles of these residential-type communities, like apartments or single rooms. Assisted living provides more personal care than a caregiver or a retirement community, but not round-the-clock medical care like a nursing home. In these facilities, there is usually 24-hour security and help available, but independence is encouraged. Dining areas and recreational opportunities allow seniors to have social interaction with others. While assisted living is a great option for seniors needing help with ADLs, it can be impractical due to high costs. The national median cost of a one-bedroom unit in an assisted-living facility is $42,000, according to the 2014 Cost of Care Survey. There are also limited resources to help cover these costs; Medicare does not apply to assisted-living facilities, and Medicaid may only provide a limited benefit. Also, seniors may be reluctant to leave their home and move to a new environment.
A final response to aging is simply living alone for as long as possible. The Administration on Aging found that around 29 percent of elderly adults lived alone in 2010, and almost half of women over 75 lived alone. While living alone at home is a popular choice among seniors, it may not be the smartest. Nearly 12 percent of seniors over 65 need assistance with long-term care to perform ADLs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation . Remaining in one’s home without assistance may provide a sense of independence, but the dangers it presents can outweigh the advantages.
With each passing year, physical and mental deterioration can make even one’s home an unsafe place. The stairs that were not a problem at 65 can become a hazard at 80. Slippery floors can cause more falls as one continues to age. Being isolated can cause loneliness, which may begin to take a toll on a senior’s physical health. Living with loneliness increases the odds of death by 45 percent, according to a study published by the Public Library of Science. Unfortunately, many seniors live alone for financial reasons, such as a low income or limited savings.
Aging is inevitable, which means planning for it is not only a smart decision, but also a common sense decision. Seniors and their children can work together to decide the easiest, best and most financially smart way for them to receive help with ADLs. Having a set plan can help seniors and families avoid last-minute decisions, and will provide a smooth transition for everyone.