According to the AARP, nearly 80% of older adults want to Age in Place, but there are advantages and disadvantages of aging in place that should be considered. While the majority of seniors’ first instinct is to want to maintain their independence and stay in place, they may be surprised to learn some of the benefits of moving to a smaller home or an option that offers more community.
I have supported hundreds of seniors through housing decisions over the years, and have seen that each situation is both unique and dynamic. Some elderly were thriving in their homes with minor modifications until a life-changing event altered their circumstances. Others were isolated in their homes and struggled due to a lack of support. These situations are reminders that while aging in place is generally the preferred option, it is not always optimal. There are both advantages and disadvantages of aging in place, and as these will be fluid based on your changing life situation, the situation should be reassessed on an ongoing basis.
In this article, we will look at the advantages and disadvantages of aging in place, and consider when aging in place is a poor fit. Our goal is to develop the knowledge we need to make informed, thoughtful life decisions based on the advantages and disadvantages of aging in place.
3 Advantages and Disadvantages of Aging in Place
Advantage of Aging in Place #1
Familiarity and comfort are compelling reasons to age in place. A senior may cherish the wonderful memories of a long-time home, or value their connection with the local community. Change can also be difficult; while many individuals adapt well to a new setting, others do not. In this case, as they consider the advantages and disadvantages of aging in place, a senior’s personality will have a significant impact on whether staying in a long-time home is a plus or a minus.
Advantage of Aging in Place #2
Aging in place also allows a senior to maintain more control of their day-to-day life. This sense of autonomy can have enormous benefits on happiness and quality of life. As many seniors lose the ability to handle their personal needs, maintaining a sense of control regarding their home can be important. This is particularly true for seniors with chronic health conditions.
Advantage of Aging in Place #3
There are also costs to consider. Full-service Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, and Nursing Homes are expensive. Aging in place has its own costs, but unless you need significant home modifications, it may be the cheaper option. This is important to note, as governmental support for care residences is limited. For instance, Medicare will not pay for a Care Community, beyond a limited, medically necessary stay in a Skilled Nursing Facility.
It is important to consider whether your home and community are good candidates for aging in place, as not all houses are good fits. However, if your residence is a good fit, staying home can be far more budget-friendly than moving to a Care Community. Depending on your situation, there will be different advantages and disadvantages of aging in place, which makes it crucial to give this some thought.
Disadvantage of Aging in Place #1
It can become difficult for seniors to maintain their homes as they age. Chores and repairs may become challenging or unsafe, or just something we no longer want to do!
One option is to hire outside service providers. Services from lawn care to prescription delivery are available in most populated areas. This makes it easier to age in place, though cost is an important consideration. If a senior is uncomfortable with technology, a trusted friend can help them get deliveries and services set up.
Disadvantage of Aging in Place #2
Aging in place becomes more difficult if a senior suffers a physical or cognitive decline. If an individual can no longer perform the basic tasks required to maintain the home or their personal care, aging in place may not be an option. Extensive modifications or in-home caregivers may become necessary. Such costs will likely make aging in place cost-prohibitive.
Disadvantage of Aging in Place #3
It is also important to consider the potential for loneliness or isolation for seniors who age in place. This applies to individuals as well as couples; in either case, if there is no way to get out and engage the world, difficulties can arise. Friends and family can alleviate the situation, but without them, isolation is a risk. If a neighborhood has declined over the years, it can exacerbate the situation. Seniors with security concerns about their community will be less inclined to seek out connections.
Most seniors are opposed to the idea of changing their living situation, but it is important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages of aging in place. The idea of change can be uncomfortable, but if aging in place becomes challenging, it can help to consider new options.
When is Aging in Place a Poor Fit?
Not all homes are safe for older seniors to age in place. This is especially true when for the elderly with declining vision or mobility. The design of the house can also be problematic. It can become dangerous to navigate homes with stairways or difficult exterior access. Narrow halls and cramped bathrooms can also become problematic for aging individuals.
There are many home modification options, but some homes simply are not well-suited to changes. In some cases, the cost of the modifications makes the project impossible. This is especially true with older, multi-level residences.
Poor physical health can make aging in place difficult. This is especially true if an individual lives alone. Seniors who suffer physical or cognitive decline may have difficulties with day-to-day tasks. Whether those are personal care or home maintenance tasks, seniors who are unable to care for themselves have to rely on others. Family and friends may be able to help, but caregivers can become overwhelmed as needs build. In-home paid services can provide much-needed support but will increase the cost of aging in place. At a certain point, support needs may become too much.
Further, severe cognitive impairments make aging in place dangerous. A person with severe Alzheimer’s or other dementia requires round-the-clock care and oversight. A spouse or other caregiver in the home may be able to fill this role, but it can be an enormous burden.
A lack of family, close friends, and community also creates challenges for aging in place. This is especially true for seniors with physical limitations who are unable to engage with the community. Social isolation and loneliness have significant adverse impacts on older people’s physical health and mental well-being, which makes it important to consider social factors when deciding whether aging in place is right for you.
The Bottom Line
Aging in place works best for individuals who do their research, consider both the advantages and disadvantages of aging in place, and plan ahead. To maximize the odds of aging in place successfully, individuals should protect their physical and cognitive health, make needed home modifications, and maintain a supportive network of family and friends.
It is also important to remain flexible as you consider the advantages and disadvantages of aging in place. Even with optimal habits, age-related physical or cognitive changes will occur. Unanticipated life events can happen, and a new plan may be needed. If life demands a new plan, remaining open to unfamiliar options may help you find the best solution.