Thursday, 19 June 2014
Notes on Aging in Place
From a story on the Minnesota Public Radio website titled, The Danger of Aging in Place.
”If there’s one thing many Baby Boomers have in common, it’s this: Trying to convince an elderly parent that it’s time to leave the home they’ve spent their life in, and move somewhere that’s not so dangerous for an elderly person.”
Could such a generality possibly be true - that a large number of the 70-odd million baby boomers believe their parents need to be forced out of the homes where they are happy? The writer, Bill Collins, sure makes it sound that way.
There are all kinds of reasons this is wrong. First, the vast majority of people make it all the way to their graves successfully living on their own. I've seen numbers ranging from 65 to 80 percent.
In addition, there are nowhere near enough beds in care facilities to accommodate many more elders than are already there. And, it's boomers themselves who are becoming the people who may or may not need to leave their homes - not being the operative word in that sentence.
Although the numbers are hard to come by and too often compare apples and oranges, reasonably good statistics from several reputable sources can be deduced. They tell us that at any given time about five percent of the 65-plus population is living in some kind of skilled nursing home.
Additionally, about one-quarter of people who are 65 and older will spend some time in such a place but not permanently.
Those statistics cover the entire 65-plus population. When you count only the oldest old, the percentage of 95 and older in skilled care rises to about 25 percent.
The reason for the fuzziness of this information is that there are so many more kinds of care homes than in the past and no one is tracking or comparing them well. But I feel confident that what I found is within the realm of reality and that leaves me wondering what in the world Mr. Collins is talking about – the dangers of aging in place.
His article is mostly a long quotation from another story by a woman, Michelle Singetary, who is struggling with blaming herself over her mother's death due to a terrible home fire:
”What could I have done differently to get her to recognize that she needed more help and could no longer live on her own?” she writes.
“But my mother was strong willed, competent and in her right mind, so we couldn’t force her to relocate.”
“Competent and in her right mind.” So why did she need to relocate? In the original story, not quoted by Mr. Collins, Singetary explains that her mother had had two strokes, had trouble walking and needed help with cooking and bathing.
No doubt that can be worrisome. Nevertheless, many elders who need that kind of help but are otherwise capable, as this mother seemed to be, do quite well with regular visits from a relative or home aide, and are happier than they would be pulling up stakes late in life. Not to mention how much less expensive it is to age in place.
It is not ours to judge this terrible occurrence; we cannot possibly know all the circumstances and my heart goes out to Ms. Singletary.
What I do want to do, however, is point out the irresponsibility of the Minnesota Public Radio website posting a story with such an inflammatory headline together with a fallacious, ageist assumption in the first sentence that infantilizes elders.
Consistently, over many years, about 90 percent of all old people have told pollsters they want to age in place and the facts show that a huge majority manage to do that.
With the growth of the Villages movement and shared housing, many more will be able to do so in coming years.
The fire that killed Ms. Singletary's mother is a terrible thing, but horrible accidents happen to people of all ages and this one occurrence should not be used as evidence that aging in place is dangerous.
[Hat tip to TGB reader chlost who brought this story to my attention.]
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Janet Thompson: Hot Pants and Go-Go Boots