Studies conducted by the US government, as well as the Universities of Harvard and Minnesota have confirmed two statistical facts: that the 55+ age group is increasingly longer-lived, and the majority of the 55+ age group also prefers to “age in place”, instead of entering assisted living communities.
This trend is fuelled by attitudinal shifts which have moved away from the densely-packed yet isolated and impersonal homes. The Baby Boomer generation have indicated a preference towards more independence and a stronger sense of community within a neighborhood of like-minded residents. Certain construction groups, such as Epcon Franchising, have taken note of this trend, and turned their business focus towards creating affordable options for older adults who wish to age in place.
Older adults tend to live as couples or alone in independent, single family units, and as their age progresses, they find that certain aspects of living might present more of a challenge. Seniors in the 80+ group experience a much higher difficulty with factors such as access to public transport, mobility and cognitive ability, but affordability is a similar issue for all three 55+ groups, (55-64, 65-79, 80+).
Here are five things to consider when choosing where to age in place.
A large proportion of seniors prefer a neighborhood which is walkable, as walking is a cost-effective and enjoyable way to stay active. Walking helps to mitigate bone density loss, improves circulation and cardio fitness, and combats a range of age-related diseases.
The neighborhood doesn’t necessarily have to be flat, but it should be a place that offers the opportunity for residents to walk, jog or wheel around without having to negotiate excessive or protracted inclines. Pavements should be in good condition and there should be effective crosswalks and traffic lights.
Access To Transport
This means either public transport, private rideshares, or parking for a vehicle. A neighborhood for independent living should accommodate residents in terms of their own circumstances and capabilities. Older residents will need to be situated near public transport routes, or within the area of operation of affordable rideshare or shuttle services.
Developers sometimes forget that seniors can still drive their own vehicles, and some purpose-built communities do not offer parking spaces for private vehicles, forcing residents to either park in the street, which can be dangerous, or sell their vehicles and rely on public transport.
Long-term housing decisions should take into consideration what kinds of transport have been accounted for by planners.
Access To Medical Facilities
As people get older, they experience more health challenges. This is true with everyone, but seniors age 55+ will need to consider what types of conditions they might need to anticipate. It is not enough simply to be within driving distance of a hospital or clinic.
They should factor in the residential location and the response time of emergency services, any existing local community paramedical services, and the quality of the existing infrastructure (roads, cell phone towers, power grid, etc.), which can play into effective access to treatment at home or elsewhere.
When looking at a purpose-built seniors residential neighborhood, the safety factor should come under scrutiny. Police and security services should be available and active. They should also have a healthy working relationship with the residents.
It is worth looking at police and security services’ response times, as well as local crime statistics, which should be available through the official channels.
A forever house should be navigable by seniors in the early stages of retirement. It should have reliable foundations, be warm in winter and cool in summer. It should meet local building codes.
It should also lend itself to being adapted, in the event that the resident becomes limited in mobility. For example, stairs are acceptable, but they should, in time, be adaptable for a ramp or chair lift. Bathrooms can be cozy, but should still allow for grab rails to be installed. The size and placement of windows should allow for easy access to hang curtains and for cleaning.
Large, extravagant houses are expensive to maintain, and over time, they will become less and less affordable. It is better to look for a place that will meet the needs of the owner, but remain practical and user-friendly with time.
Seniors wanting to live out their latter years independently may face some resistance and concern from family members who may not want to, or be able to, care for their aging relatives. Assisted living may appear to be an easy and practical solution to this problem. However the growing trend towards aging independently cannot be ignored. More people are choosing to age in place.
When seniors are able to live in a community of their peers, as individuals with dignity and control over their lives, it follows that they will have a better quality of life, and be less of a burden on family members. Then, all that remains is to decide on which house best suits the senior lifestyle, and begin that new adventure.