Aging in place: do the elderly have this option?

Older people prefer to age in their own homes, but many houses aren’t suitable for the elderly.

Myrna Driedger, MLA Winnipeg Manitoba Progressive Conservative (PC) caucus
Myrna Driedger
Broadway Journal

What happens when you, or your children, realize that you can no longer care for yourself in a safe and appropriate manner? What are your options? This is becoming the all-too-familiar question people face as they grow older and begin to experience a chronic illness that impacts their mobility or cognitive ability.

One woman I know of – we’ll call her Mary – had been living happily in her own home until she was 92, managing with some help from her adult children. Very independent, Mary eventually agreed to accepting help from Homecare with bathing and meal preparation. After a year, she moved into an apartment and the situation remained stable for about a year, when she had a fall.

During her stay in hospital, it was discovered she had blockages to her heart, but she was not a candidate for surgery. It was no longer safe for her to live alone.

Independence falls away
What followed was a two-month stay in hospital, and four months in Deer Lodge Centre for rehabilitation, 14 months in interim care and finally placement in a personal care home, where she resides today.

There are many paths to a personal care home; this is just one. In Manitoba, 14 per cent of our population is aged 65 and over, and it is estimated this older population is going to double in the next 20 years. According to the United Nations program on aging, 10 per cent of the world population is aged 60 or over. It is projected that this figure will reach 20 per cent in 2050. This is being called the “silver tsunami”, and I fear that in Manitoba we are not well prepared to deal with such a situation

An international undertaking
Canada recently became a member of the International Longevity Centre Global Alliance, an international consortium of member organizations whose mission is to address longevity and population aging in positive and productive ways.

The ILC has found that almost all seniors prefer to be able to “age in place” rather than move to another home or facility. In some countries, such as India and China, many elderly parents still live at home. But with industrial development, nursing homes are becoming more popular even there as attitudes evolve.

The United Nations Madrid International
Plan of Action on Aging, adopted in 2002, encourages policy makers to promote aging in place in the community, a subject that includes such matters as age-friendly and accessible housing design.

What does “aging in place” mean? Aging in place is a term that refers to making changes in the home to allow seniors to live there for as long as possible. Some of the basic concepts behind aging in place are to look at known limitations people have as they age and modify the home to minimize the impact of these limitations. A few thousand dollars spent on modifications may save tens of thousands more dollars that would be spent under assisted-living options.

Some main concerns that would have to be addressed under this proposed approach are preventing falls, better lighting and better communications. Making homes wheelchair-friendly by removing steps at the front door, widening all doors by four inches and other such modifications are put forth as improvements that would allow seniors to remain in their own homes for a longer time.

Do we have the policies in place and the resources to make aging in place a reality? There is already a shortage of caregivers, there’s a limited choice of liveable communities for older adults and many existing homes are barriers to people living with a disability.

Can we meet the coming challenge?
There is also a recognized need to better educate families, so they are prepared to assume some responsibility for their parents’ well-being, for example discussing plans for action with their aging parents well ahead of the time action is required.

Home care is one of the first resources a family will need to access. Families should feel they’re on reasonably solid ground in broaching this subject: this province’s home care program is the oldest comprehensive, province-wide, universal, home-care program in the country, and widely respected for the quality of the service offered.

In another six years, when the large wave of baby boomers is expected to hit age 75, we can expect to see the demand for housing and care for the elderly start to rise dramatically. Pondering the concerns raised here, and the numerous social and care issues already seeking public attention, thoughtful people have reason to ask themselves and community leaders: is Manitoba prepared to meet this challenge?

Myrna Driedger is MLA for Charleswood.

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