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Health & Wellbeing
July 04, 2022
Aging can be a distressing process. Suddenly many of the things you used to be able to do with ease becomes more of a challenge, or downright impossible. For some there can come a time to accept that a move to a more manageable situation like a retirement village could be a good solution, but for others that isn’t an option or may be undesirable. In these situations, often the preferred approach is to do something called aging in place.
The proportion of the world’s population over 60 years of age is projected to increase nearly double from 12% to 22% between 2015 and 2050, so the topic of aging in place is an important one. We have summarised some of the considerations, and more in-depth information is available from other sources like the New Zealand Government website's Help in your home section which lists the types of support you can get with continuing to live in your own home. This includes support such as nursing and medical help and can extend to help with day-to-day personal care if you meet the requirements. Another helpful website is the age concern website ageconcern.org. Age Concern New Zealand is a charity dedicated to people over 65, their friends, and whānau.1 On their website you will find helpful information on subjects such as elder abuse, money and legal advice.
The benefit of aging in place is that independence is maintained, as people feel comfortable with their own things around them and are able to make choices for themselves. Studies have shown that doing things for people who can do it for themselves, can lead to a slippery slope of learned helplessness which is why many rest homes try to operate under a rule of ‘Don’t do anything for anyone that they can do for themselves. ‘Many seniors can go on to live healthy and productive lives in their own homes being active members of the community and retaining their dignity and wellbeing. Sometimes all that is needed is a little adjustment to the environment in the home or some added help from outside.
Aging in place reduces social isolation by promoting community involvement. This leads to significant health benefits including reduced mortality, increased physical functioning, and decreased symptoms of depression, among others.2 However, for some, reduced independence, and changes in living situations e.g., the loss of a partner or spouse can result in loneliness. Some solutions to combat loneliness are to volunteer in the community or join a walking group or a group like Probus, which provides retirees with the opportunity to connect socially.
It is important to ensure that you or your loved one are still receiving adequate nutrition and are able to safely prepare meals. If not, there may be some help available in the form of Meals on Wheels or from a caregiver who prepares meals in advance or helps with shopping trips. You may be eligible for assistance with maintenance around the house and garden which can cut down on the dangers of hazards from unkempt areas. See what is available for you.
There are several considerations that should be taken into account when deciding on when it’s time to go such as cognitive decline, the risk to the individual such as falls and the social impact of continuing to age in place.
According to the World Health Organization Biological ageing is only loosely associated with a person’s age in years. (WHO).3 Some 80-year-olds have physical and mental capacities like many 20-year-olds. Other people experience declines in physical and mental capacities at much younger ages.4
Cognitive decline alongside reduced mobility can pose a risk to individuals aging in place. As a group, women aged 80 years and over, and men aged 85 years and over should be considered at high risk of hip fracture.5 The risks of a fall in the home can be further compounded by factors such as failing eyesight. While there are things you can do to mitigate some of the risks like de-cluttering spaces and ensuring handrails and ramps are installed where possible, there may come a time when the risks of living along outweigh the benefits.
Having inadequate social relationships has also been shown to be as bad for health as smoking, and loneliness has been linked to increased likelihood of entering rest home care. It is important that if someone is still living at home that they have adequate social interaction otherwise it may be better for their mental and emotional health to be in a rest home.
2) https://advancingsmartly.org/2015/04/20/senior-independence-the-psychological-benefits-of-aging-in-place/#:~:text=Aging%20 in%20place%20reduces%20social,%2C%20among%20others.%20.%20.%20.
4) Aging in Place: The Role of Community Health Workers (2015). Available at: https://www.who.int/ageing/features/ageing-in-place/en/
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