Ultimate Guide to Aging in Place

“Aging in place” is a new term for an old concept. Instead of looking into an assisted living facility or community, it’s the process of living out your golden years independently at home. 

And it’s gaining popularity. According to an AARP survey, “87% of aging adults 65+ say they want to stay in their current home or community as they age.”1 

The best way to prepare is to look at common risks and create a plan with your loved ones for the coming decades. Our guide addresses the risks of aging in place and how you can age successfully in your own home—even if you live alone.

Video: How to Have Tough Conversations About Aging with Sally Russell

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Taking care of yourself is more important than any home modification. Your mental, physical, and emotional health can ensure years of happy aging in place surrounded by the people and things you care about.

1. Stay stimulated

Maintain relationships

Those relationships you’ve built from your years in school, the military, or previous jobs are valuable. Don’t be afraid to reconnect with old friends from the past. Chances are they’d love to hear from you. 

Maintaining these connections will ensure that you have loved ones to laugh with and plenty of memories to go around—whether in person or through holiday cards, emails, or texts. And, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, video chatting has become a popular way to catch up and stay in touch.

If you haven't already, consider getting a cell phone designed for seniors so you can talk to your friends anywhere.

Make new friends

Making new friends can be a challenge as you get older, but these new connections can keep you young. 

Find local meetup groups through your place of worship or community centers based on your interests. Find activities through exercise groups or enroll in classes to learn new skills and meet others. 

You can also turn to the internet to meet new friends. There are message boards, online book clubs, and online communities for almost any interest out there. From genealogy to woodworking, you can meet others around the world who share your interests.

Avoiding scams online

All that extra screen time can put you in the line of sight of online con artists who target older adults with clever online scams. But don’t let them scare you off. Familiarize yourself with common scams targeted at seniors to avoid trouble.

Keep your favorite hobbies

Whether it’s gardening, watching sports, reading about history, or other hobbies, don’t let your hobbies fall by the wayside. Staying mentally and emotionally stimulated feeds your brain and keeps you motivated.

Stay active as long as possible

You don’t need to be an athlete to stay active. Even a simple evening walk after dinner or an exercise class can keep your blood pumping and bones healthy. 

For caregivers of an older person, you can share simple exercise routines with them that they can do sitting down.

Our experts on staying independent longer

Being active mentally and physically can help you stay independent longer. “Walking is one of the best things you can do because it forces calcium out to the bones,” says SafeWise health expert Sally Russell, MN, CMSRN, CN. Just walking a little bit every day can help you avoid fractures and bone issues down the road. 

Russell also suggests reading the paper and watching the news to stay engaged with life outside your home.

2. Rethink home safety

As you age, injuries and illness become more of a risk. For example, falls are a leading cause of injury in those over 65 and hospitalize thousands of seniors every year.2 

Even if you’re steady on your feet now, a misplaced rug or slippery bathtub could leave you hurt and unable to get help. Putting safeguards and safety devices in place now can prevent serious injuries later. 

Look at your home with new eyes

After living in your home for years, even decades, it’s easy to take potential safety hazards for granted. But it’s important to know how to prevent falls now so you’ll be safer in the future. 

Look at your home with fresh eyes to find things like sharp corners, slippery rugs, or tangles of wires that could be tripping hazards. There’s a way to upgrade in every room to prepare you for aging in place.

In the bathroom, be sure you have a nonslip bath mat inside the tub or shower to prevent falling. You can find removable grab bars to make getting into and out of the tub easier. If home modification is in the budget, switch to a shower stall to invest in your independence down the road. 

Consider other factors like lighting. Installing nightlights in the hallway or bathroom now can make nighttime trips to the bathroom safer. Better lighting in the kitchen, garage, or your bedroom can also help.

Learn more about improving bathroom safety as you age.

Light Bulb
Big changes don’t happen overnight

“Because we see them [our loved ones] every day, we don’t always see that there might be a risk factor now that wasn’t there before. We don’t notice the subtle changes as [they] become a little less steady or a little less clear,” says Russell.

  • Be observant. Watch for new challenges that may arise. Maybe they aren’t as steady on their feet or can’t see as well in low lighting. 
  • Be proactive. Don’t wait for an accident to happen to tape down the carpet or improve the lighting. Anticipating your loved one’s needs can prevent injuries. 

Look into a medical alert system or smartwatch

Medical alert systems have come a long way since they first became popular in the 1980s. Many companies have ditched the clinical look in exchange for smart medical alert watches and fashionable pendants. Even an active older person should consider some type of safety wearable.

Medical alert systems and safety wearables are instant lifelines to emergency services. If you’re injured or have an emergency while you’re alone, these devices can put you in touch with first responders and your emergency contacts who can come help. 

Medical alerts with fall detection have sensors built into the devices that detect changes in speed and height, thereby detecting falls. So if you’re injured from a fall and can't make the call yourself, your alert system will automatically call for help.

Other medical alert systems

There are several types of medical alert systems. Make sure you research their different features before choosing the medical alert that's best for you.

For example, traditional medical alert systems stay at home, but you can find alert devices with GPS that you can take with you anywhere. 

And while most systems cost anywhere from $30 to $40 per month, you can find affordable medical alert systems with the same features for less money. And in some cases, you may be able to get funding from Medicare or your insurance for a system.

3. Consider home automation

Home automation keeps your home comfortable and your routine on track. You can set schedules for lights, appliances, cameras, and other devices. Smart hubs can give you reminders for things like appointments and medications.

Adding smart home equipment to your home can also deter intruders and stop porch pirates from swiping packages. And they’re easy to set up for people of any age or tech comfort level.

Check out our guides to smart home tech for seniors and smart devices for people who live alone to learn more.

Get comfortable at home

Home automation improves energy efficiency too. Smart thermostats can adjust the temperature and learn your preferences automatically so you don’t have to adjust them all the time and worry about using too much energy. 

Smart bulbs, plugs, and locks also work with your routine to turn on automatically and let in visitors. You can also try services like Alexa Together that send you updates on your loved one's activity. 

Keeping your smart home safe from hacking

While these devices are generally safe from cyber attacks, there are a few things you can do to ensure hackers stay out.

Install a security system

You don’t need a complicated or expensive system to be safe in your own home. DIY home security systems are easy to install in under an hour and affordable enough to leave room in your budget every month. 

And, like medical alert systems, home security setups have professional alarm monitoring. If your alarm system senses a problem, whether it’s a break-in or fire, a professional will contact you and call first responders to help. 

Many security systems use mobile apps to contact you whether you’re home or not. So if there’s a problem while you’re out of town or just down the street, you’ll be the first to know.

Use cameras inside and out

Home security cameras can be part of a system or stand alone. Outdoor cameras can catch suspicious activity around your home while wireless cameras can catch activity inside. Our favorite choice for seniors is the handy doorbell video camera.

A doorbell camera works like a regular doorbell but with a built-in camera that shows you who’s at the door. All you’ll have to do is check your phone to see if it’s a friendly visitor or spoils from your latest online shopping spree. So there’s no rush to answer the door or interrupt what you’re doing to see who’s there.

4. Think about transportation and mobility

Getting around may be easy now (minus some popping joints here and there). But things change as you age. The stairs, your car, and your backyard can become more challenging terrain over the coming decades. 

Consider how you’ll get around in the future. Whether it’s from your bed to the bathroom or down the street to the grocery store, our ability to move changes as we age in place.

Mobility devices

While getting from point A to point B may change, you don’t have to stop doing what you love. With a little help from mobility devices, you can still get around and enjoy your independence.

Folding cane chairs are handheld devices that fold out into stools or seats. You can find ones big enough to settle into at an outdoor concert or museum or simple ones that give you a quick rest while waiting in line. Most can support up to 250 pounds comfortably and act as a cane and a chair, but you can find others that can hold more. 

Mobility scooters can make trips down the street quicker. You can also find sturdier models tough enough for uneven terrain like grass or gravel. They’re expensive and not as permanent for mobility problems as wheelchairs but can be a good solution for those with knee, joint, or back problems. 

Wheelchair ramps and stair-assist chairs can make your home more accessible if you use a wheelchair, walker, or power scooter. You can find portable ramps you can keep in your vehicle or longer ones that can tackle the steps on your front porch. Generally, the longer the ramp, the higher the incline it can handle. 

Practice safe driving

There’s a level of risk for drivers of any age. But as you get older and your eyesight and reaction time decreases, getting behind the wheel can get riskier. 

Driving later in life depends on maintaining your eyesight and staying safe from distractions like your cell phone or GPS device. 

You can find distraction-free medical alert devices for your vehicle like the one from Bay Alarm Medical that plugs right into your car. 

Other GPS vehicle trackers can help you if your car gets stolen and even provide regular maintenance reports. 

As you age, familiarize yourself with rideshare programs in your area like Uber and Lyft. You can also check out Uber Health, a rideshare program specifically for doctor visits and health checks. 

Have the tough conversations now

Thinking about the future is tough, especially when it comes to big issues like aging in place. Making arrangements for your future self with your loved ones about the coming years can save them from tough decisions. 

Discuss the turning points and how long you want to be independent. Help create a plan with them about what they should do when you are unable to safely live alone. Will you live with them or move into an assisted living community

Making these decisions now and preparing for the future will give them confidence that they’re providing the level of care you want.

FAQ for caregivers

As our advisory expert Sally Russell told us, “If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t take care of somebody else.” When you’re caring for an older loved one, you still need to take time to recharge for yourself. 

  • Hire part-time help 
  • Share responsibilities with other loved ones
  • Get advice from a counselor

Declining hygiene and nutrition are two major indicators your aging parent or loved one needs more supervision. Usually, independent seniors can cook and clean, change their own clothing, and wash themselves without much trouble. 

Watch for these signs: 

  • Unable to change clothes
  • Eats dangerously old or expired food
  • Stops bathing themselves

If you decide to invite your older loved one to live with you, give them their own space for privacy. Smart home devices can help them make adjustments to lighting and temperature to stay comfortable. And check every room for slipping hazards to make your home safer

Katie McEntire
Written by
Katie McEntire
As a renter, pet-owner, and woman living alone, Katie McEntire takes safety seriously. She’s tested devices like pet cameras, home security systems, and GPS trackers in her own home and devices in the name of safety. In addition to testing, writing, and reviewing for SafeWise, she also makes videos for the site’s YouTube channel. She’s been featured on publications like TechGuySmartBuy, Forbes, Healthy Moms, and Digital Care. Katie has a Bachelor’s degree in Technical Writing from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She’s held previous writing positions at Overstock.com and Top Ten Reviews.

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