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Do You Really Want to Age in Place?

Should you stay or go? 'Aging in the Right Place' helps you decide.


Would you like to stay in your own home as you grow older, bringing in services as you need them and continuing to live among family and friends?According to numerous AARP studies, most Americans over 50 surveyed say yes, they would like to “age in place.”

But what if your home isn’t suitable for your needs in your 70s, 80s or 90s? What if stairs prevent you from walking up to your bedroom or you have medical needs that couldn’t be met at home? What if the home modifications recommended for staying in your home aren’t affordable or practical and you have no family nearby to help you coordinate care, meals and transportation?If aging in place is not an option, which type of community or living arrangement might work best for you (or your parents, if you’re helping them make this decision)? What are the pros and cons of each tyoe of housing and which factors are most important to consider?

Enter University of Florida professor and gerontologist Stephen M. Golant, who has written Aging in the Right Placean excellent, comprehensive guide to housing and care options for older adults.

People evaluate buying a toaster or coffeemaker more than they do their housing and long-term care choices.

— Stephen M. Golant

Golant starts with aging in place — the preferred option for most — evaluating the pros and cons of staying put. (He says, for instance, that it’s not a good idea if you don’t have a close, involved family member living nearby.)

He then walks through the benefits and challenges of moving to another home, whether that’s a smaller home with nearby resources, a retirement community, an assisted living facility or more novel options like clustered housing or villages.

Golant gives equal weight to emotional and practical considerations, making the case that if you aren’t happy and secure in your home, it’s not the best fit.

I spoke with Golant this week to find out why he wrote the book and how he hopes people will use it:

Next Avenue:  What inspired you to write this book? 

Golant: If you look at the major theories underlying why some older people are happier than others, there’s a tremendous emphasis on individual measures (such as eating well, exercising and staying engaged) and less emphasis on what kind of housing and neighborhood and community you live in. If you choose the right place, it can compensate for the most undesirable health and social changes a person might experience as they age. People evaluate buying a toaster or coffeemaker more than they do their housing and long-term care choices.

What is the most important factor in deciding where to live as you grow older?

Know thyself. Know exactly what your lifestyle preferences are, know what your capabilities are, know how you deal with stress. Older adults differ for two reasons: They differ when they are younger and they also deal differently with the declines and losses of old age. Older people must judge for themselves what is appropriate. The key is to try to find options that fit your individual preferences.(MORE: Selling Your Home to Fund Your Retirement Lifestyle)

Your book questions the “successful aging” model, which emphasizes personal responsibility for health and happiness. What are the weaknesses of this model?  

The inference of successful aging is to give up on older people if they experience declines and losses. No matter how careful one is about eating patterns and exercise, bad things happen despite the best preventive health measures. When bad things happen, older people should have as many options for living environments to help cope with decline.

More people are coming around to this point of view — that aging successfully involves coping with adversity. We’ll always have a situation out-of-whack at some point wherever we live, but we don’t fold our cards, we try to find alternatives.

You also challenge the notion that aging in place is always the best option. 

The idea that there’s only one strategy for dealing with old age I think is an impression easily attained by older people. Aging in place is not for everyone and may not be the right place, but there are alternatives that they should consider as ways to improve quality of life.(MORE: New Tech Devices Will Help Boomers Age in Place)

How can adult children help their parents decide where to live as they require more help with daily life? 

Children may not agree on how parents should deal with challenges of growing older. Older people themselves may not agree on how their children want to have them prepare for old age. What we know from a great deal of research is the negative power of usurping decision-making from older people. Concerned children should allow their parents to have a major say in how they are going to conduct their later lives.(MORE: 6 Ways Siblings Can Pull Together for Mom and Dad)

What three things do you want people to take from your book? 

Everyone is different in their desired lifestyle and needs.It is very likely that people will experience an adverse environment at some point in their older lives. It’s important not to give up, but to find alternative places to live.Most people — even the rugged individual types —  will need to accept help at some point and that’s OK.

What are the biggest barriers to helping people find what you call “residential normalcy” or comfort and control as they age? 

Many people enjoy where they live, but they have increasing difficulty maintaining their house and climbing stairs. The biggest barrier is being open to information, finding information and being open to learning about choices that they might not have thought about.

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