Considering a move to a long-term care or senior living community can help elderly adults ensure that their needs are met when a health crisis hits, say gerontologists from the University of East Anglia, Britain.

The likelihood of moving involuntarily increases with age, and people over age 80 are at high risk of having the decision made for them by family or by health professionals, wrote Morag Farquhar, Ph.D., in a new journal article. In fact, a move at this time of life is often driven by traumatic incidents such as injury from a fall, illness, or the death of a spouse who has been acting as a caregiver. And that’s when an elder may suddenly lose their say in the matter, she explained.

To study this problem, Farquhar and colleagues interviewed a group of elders aged 95 and older who had experienced a late-life move to residential care. The oldest interviewee was 101.

In most cases, the elders were found to have had little input in the process. In addition, their family members and caregivers reported being traumatized by the events leading up to the move. In the end, some elders said that they were not happy with the decisions made for them.

“[I]n some cases, the decision to move an elderly person is made by others who may override the older person’s views and preferences,” Farquar said. “While some older people were philosophical about their move and considered it a part of the aging process, many thought a decision had been made for them, some felt resentment, and later regretted their move.”

While most older adults would prefer to remain in their own home, advance planning makes it more likely their wishes and needs will be heard, Farquar concluded. 

“Relatives need much more support to discuss moving and housing options at timely junctures before a health crisis – so that older people can participate in the decision making process.”

Participants in the study were originally part of the Cambridge City over-75s Cohort Study, which started in 1985. The article was published last week in Innovation in Aging.