When is Living at Home Not the Best Option?

Thanks to the aging of the baby boomer generation born in the late 1940s and 1950s, the American population is getting older. The senior population is projected to reach 88.5 million by 2050 – well over twice the number of seniors in 2000. That 88.5 million will be twenty percent of the total population of the United States.

Not surprisingly, more Americans are finding themselves caring for older adults, often cobbling together various resources to cover their loved one’s needs. This approach can work. Large families often have enough members to share the load of “checking up on Mom.” It helps tremendously when your employer offers flextime and even resource and referral services for eldercare. Navigating the world of Medicare and Medicaid, Veterans benefits, in-home care agencies, looking after your parent’s home in addition to your own can feel like a second job. 

But…when does “checking up on Mom” become not enough? When is living at home not the best option? The vast majority of our elders want to stay in their homes for as long as possible, but when is living there no longer living well? Let’s explore four key things to consider: safety, nutrition, managing medicines, and loneliness.

When is Living at Home Not the Best Option

Safety

Preparing a home for aging parents is relatively easy for someone who is still active. Some common and basic changes are basic and simple to do, like installing bathroom handrails, lowering shelves in the kitchen, rearranging frequently used items for easier access, adding more lighting, removing trip hazards like throw rugs, and installing a medical alert system. If your parent has grown frail, however, and does not walk without assistance, the chances of falling are great. According to the CDC, one out of three adults age 65 and older falls each year. Twenty to thirty percent of people who do fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as hip fractures or head traumas. Ask yourself: keeping Mom in her home may be comforting to her, but is she safe? Should she be alone? A fall will force the decision to find a care alternative and the injury will already be suffered. 

Nutrition. 

Many older adults find cooking a chore or find that it isn’t enjoyable to cook for one. Today, online grocery stores allow customers to set up shopping lists for easy reordering, with access to a wide selection of produce, poultry, and even laundry detergent. For someone comfortable with technology, this can work very well. Or, the family can divvy up the days to cook meals or even set up delivery from Meals on Wheels. Ask yourself: is your parent eating a well-rounded selection of food each day? Finding food going bad in the refrigerator or tossed in the garbage can be an indication that your loved one might not be eating well. Poor diet, especially for someone with a chronic condition, can lead to health complications. Food always tastes better when a meal is shared. Often, older adults who live alone don’t make the effort to eat a meal because they have no one to dine with.

Managing medications. 

Managing multiple medications can be extremely confusing for many people, but some older adults could be jeopardizing their health unintentionally. According to a study published by the Society of Internal Medicine a few years ago, 41% percent of seniors reported taking five or more prescription medications, and more than half had two or more prescribing physicians. Ask yourself: do you have some suspicions that your loved one is not following a drug regimen correctly? In-home assistance for a parent or parents may be an option if your parents simply need help remembering to take their medications. If your concerns go deeper, that your parents may no longer be able to manage their medications, you may need to consider services provided by an assisted living community or risk experiencing a medical emergency.  

Loneliness. 

Feeling left out and isolated or experiencing limited companionship is a common challenge of aging. Old friends may have moved away or died. If your parent no longer drives, he or she may hesitate to “bother” you for transportation. The impact of loneliness is significant. A recent New York Times article, “At Home, Many Seniors Are Imprisoned by Their Independence,” noted that depression affects a quarter to a third of the semi-homebound and 60% of the completely homebound.  Ask yourself: is your parent finding joy in life? Do they have opportunities to spend time with their peers? Is all the time you spend with them taken up with chores? Loneliness does not mean living alone. Almost two-thirds of seniors who reported feeling lonely were married or living with a partner. Aging does not have to mean an end to living a full life.

We often hear from older adults who recently moved into our communities that they wished they would have made the move sooner. They’ve come to realize how much more pleasurable living can be when they are surrounded by friends who enjoy the same interests. And there is peace of mind knowing that staff is nearby to assist if help is needed. Instead of the fear they had of losing independence when they moved, they actually gained some. 

While there are a variety of services that can support an older adult in his or her home, it still doesn’t mean that your loved one is living independently. By making an honest assessment of the situation, you will know what the right course of action is for you and your loved one.