The path to retirement and beyond comes with a lot of new scenery, from navigating health care needs to deciding where to live. The landscape is changing – in thoughtful and well-planned ways – and community developers and managers have taken notice, often leading the way to help seniors through their decision-making process as they age in place.
Here is what’s trending in the process.
1. The nation is not only catching on to what aging in place means, but it’s embracing it at all levels – emotionally, physically and financially.
Seniors are increasingly looking for ways to maintain independence while securing the helpful services they need to do so. Families want an alternative to nursing home living that represents an affordable middle ground between home ownership and hospitals. Innovative aging-in-place communities across the country continue to build an atmosphere of comfort, convenience and support while reducing or eliminating senior-challenging issues like home maintenance and health-related challenges.
2. The interdependence of living in neighborhoods and communities must continue in aging-in-place environs (just on a different level).
Many still maintain the notion that once you move out of your home, you forego the independence and freedom you associate with that place. Nothing could be further from the truth. That interdependence with neighbors, friends and community carries forward into aging-in-place living, but on a different plane.
An aging-in-place community doesn’t represent a surrender of independence. Rather, it allows seniors to be with others with similar needs and decisions. For example, while you may give up pulling weeds and cleaning gutters, you’re now able to focus on relationships, be closer to children who have moved away from the family home, and further nurture other meaningful relationships –freeing you up for deeper needs that are truly important.
Yes, home maintenance is important, but as we get older we may also need help with meals, bathing or medicine. It’s not unusual for family members to become not just the son, daughter, spouse or sibling – they evolve into a caretaker. Living in an aging-in-place community can relieve some of the pressure of “caretaker mode” and allow the relationship to develop more deeply during the aging process – often making for even stronger relationships. In National Church Residences communities, for example, we develop personal care plans that identify care partners, freeing families to focus on caring and connecting rather than caretaking and obligations. There is no need to swap one need for another.
3. Seniors should expect respect and individualized attention – or look elsewhere to get what they deserve.
Seniors should expect the highest level of respect for who they are, where they’re coming from and what their individual needs and goals are. Successful and caring aging-in-place communities do just that.
If seniors accept any prevailing notion of what “living the good life” or “living independently” means, it can markedly hinder successful aging in place. Every person is unique and each should be able to discuss openly any health, financial, physical, emotional or personal needs. That’s the essence of what we call whole-person or person-centered care.
4. Physical space and design – combined with high-level service platforms – matter in any successful aging-in-place community.
Physical space with open, innovative design is critical. Equally important is offering high-quality, service-oriented service platforms.
Physical space should integrate and accommodate support for physical changes and aging. Think open floor plans on single floors; large and small common spaces (big spaces for congregating/socializing and small nooks for reading and one-on-one conversations); pet-friendly outdoor spaces; gardening areas; and planned pathways for natural interactions among residents.
The service continuum deserves equal emphasis. For example, our aging-in-place communities look like neighborhoods, and they focus on hospitality and the needs-continuum, whether that be a personalized care plan and services, primary care physicians on site, transportation, adult day services, socialization, flexible dining options, or a combination of these and more.
5. Connectedness to other neighborhoods and communities is valuable.
Aging-in-place communities succeed most when they are integrated into the fabric of a neighboring community, not on the edge of town. Developers may not necessarily see that when they decide to buy or develop a property, but the key is to look at the whole picture when planning a community.
Bus lines, accessible sidewalks, stores, health care, entertainment – all of these are important to weave around any successful aging-in-place development.
6. Financial options abound, but discussion is key.
There are now so many different financial options for moving into an aging-in-place community. And there is no dominant style. Regardless of income range, everybody is concerned with affordability, so aging-in-place community managers should encourage families to maintain an open dialogue.
Previous generations were raised not to discuss money – it was considered impolite. But lack of discussion represents a significant barrier to navigating aging-in-place possibilities. Condo? Lease? Capital investment? While they may be slightly uncomfortable conversations, they’re crucial because there are a number of ways to comfortably fit any variety of situations, and an honest dialogue helps ensure a smooth, affordable and accurate planning process.
Ryan Foster is the Regional Manager at National Church Residences.