The Challenges of Aging in Place for Single Seniors

Challenges of Aging in Place for Single Seniors

Home is where you feel safe, secure, and most comfortable. Home is “ours” in a way that anywhere else simply is not – it’s not only a physical place, but it represents an emotional, mental, and even spiritual connection to a beloved space. Is it any wonder that 77% of all adults over the age of 50 want to live out their golden years at home?1

But that can be especially tough for single seniors, who don’t have a spouse caregiver to help them through any physical or mental declines they might experience during their later years. Even with the use of strong aging in place solutions such as video cameras for security or medical alert pendants for safety, a senior who is living alone can face unique challenges that those who live with a spouse or other family member don’t face.

The ideal scenario for most seniors is to live in your own space as you get older. But according to AARP, about one in three elderly adults would be willing to move to a retirement community or similar location where they can have access to services that help them live easier lives, such as a medical care facility nearby or lawn care and other home maintenance concerns handled by professionals who service the community.2  This might be especially helpful for single seniors who don’t have anyone on hand to help them with difficult chores.

Unfortunately, there are several barriers to aging in place that will become more obvious throughout the nation as time goes on and the population ages. Most homes simply aren’t set up to handle the growing needs of the elderly who live there.3 Other problems include the affordability of aging in place solutions, the cost of long-term care (including home health), affording rent or the mortgage as time goes on and expenses increase, and the hidden costs of living in isolation for seniors in rural areas.

There are some aging in place solutions that make life easier for everyone and are quite affordable, such as medical alert technology or simple upgrades to lighting. But others, such as modifying the home for a wheelchair, can cut a deep hole in finances. As a result, many individuals who need certain aging in place solutions will go without and make the best of things, which can eventually result in difficulties – including a higher fall risk as they try to navigate a home that is no longer designed with their needs in mind.

So what are the answers?

Finding Ways to Make Accessibility More Affordable

The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that Baby Boomers are turning 65 at a rate of about 10,000 per day – and that means that by 2030, the Baby Boomer generation will all be of retirement age.4 And as we get older, the rate of disability goes up. By 2035, 17 million older adults will have problems with mobility that will make it difficult to live in a traditionally-built home.

Though walking through your home might seem easy right now, consider what happens if you are in a wheelchair. Suddenly, the doorways are likely too narrow to fit the wheels through, which makes it difficult if not impossible to get from one room to another. An open-concept home might make it easier to get around certain rooms, such as rolling right through the living room into the kitchen or dining room. But what about getting to the bedrooms and bathroom?

Even getting outside can be a chore if you have steps, which most people do. In fact, only 3.5% of homes in the U.S. are designed with a zero-step entrance, single-floor living, and doorways and hallways that are designed to accommodate those in a wheelchair.5

What’s the solution? Start making small accommodations and work your way up – and start now.

Start with the more affordable options that you can easily handle on your own. Installation of grab bars is an excellent example; as these can be inexpensive and installed easily by most homeowners or a handyman. Using an emergency response solution can provide peace of mind that if you are alone and anything happens, help will be on the way with the touch of a button.

But what happens when you reach the more expensive modifications, such as widening doorways or installing a walk-in tub or roll-in shower? These modifications can stretch a typical budget but might be even more daunting for single seniors who rely on one income to get by.

That’s where an aging in place specialist comes in. These individuals are not only well-versed in what it will take to modify your home, they are also full of information on grants, loans, tax credits, and even Medicare waivers for modifications that make life easier and healthier for seniors. The National Association of Home Builders can help you find a Certified Aging in Place Specialist who can get the ball rolling on your future plans for home modifications.

Not sure exactly what you’ll need? This aging in place home remodeling checklist can help.

Dealing with the Higher Cost of Living

As we’ve all seen in recent years, costs are going up – and in some cases, up and up and up. Necessities like groceries cut into the overall money in a senior’s bank account each month, and for those on a fixed income, even a small increase in costs can be enough to force them to choose between other necessities, such as paying their rent or mortgage or getting a medical procedure they need but Medicare doesn’t cover.

This problem is especially pronounced for single seniors who live alone, as they alone shoulder the burden of the finances.

Almost 80% of elderly adults own their own homes. But that doesn’t bring the security you might think, because 8.5 million of those households headed by seniors spend more than 50% of their income on housing. That leaves much less for transportation, healthcare, food, home health assistance, and modifications to make the home safer and more secure for those with mobility issues.

What’s the solution?

Now is the time to focus on financial planning for seniors. This might mean refinancing your home or looking into a reverse mortgage. Getting help with utilities through local organizations, if you qualify, can lower your costs and put more money back into your pocket. For instance, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, provides help with utilities for those who qualify. Increasing home efficiency, starting with an energy audit through your local utility company, can also help.

Those who rent can look into rent subsidies offered by local, state, and federal governments. The National Council on Aging provides more information on help with housing.

Preparing for In-Home Care Expenses

If you want to age in place, it will likely take some help to do so. Seniors who have a spouse or partner can look to a built-in support system, but those who live on their own don’t have that luxury. Even so, many are very fortunate to have family caregivers who can assist them with the tasks of daily living as they get older.

But even the best family caregivers might need to call in help from others, such as home health professionals. Nursing homes have become less crowded in recent years thanks to a shift toward living at home longer, with many finding that home health care is more affordable than the skilled care and permanent living arrangement of a nursing care facility.

However, it’s still not cheap.  The median monthly cost for a home health aide coming to assist for five days each week is $3,813. That’s a daunting number that is far above that of most mortgages in the nation. To put it in perspective, the U.S. Census Bureau pegs the average mortgage at $1,427 in 2021.6

Long term care insurance is a good option. Though it might seem like an unnecessary expense while someone is still healthy, it’s one of those things you don’t think you need until the moment an accident or health crisis occurs and everything changes in an instant. An affordable medical alert device with fall detection is also a smart idea for any senior living alone.

Avoiding the Consequences of Isolation

While living alone provides independence, it can also make life tougher in some ways, no matter a person’s age. Isolation can happen anywhere, from rural areas where there are no neighbors nearby to urban areas where neighbors are everywhere, but many keep to themselves. Those who live in rural areas are particularly vulnerable after they join the more than 50% of those who choose to give up driving in their 80s and later. How will they get the services they need or even make it to the grocery store on a regular basis?

This situation is especially hard for single seniors. Rather than being isolated in their homes with a spouse or partner, they are often entirely alone. That can be tough to handle on a physical, emotional, and mental level. Finding solutions to some of the most common issues, like transportation, can provide peace of mind.

There are some ways to make life easier. Grocery delivery, if it’s available in your area, brings what you need right to your door, and online shopping for other items uses the power of the postal service to get things to you. Telehealth is booming these days, which is great for seniors who can’t leave the house to get to doctor’s appointments. Ride-share services can allow you to go to a variety of places on your own schedule, but local transit services are cheaper if you are okay with going to only certain stops.

This can also be something a family caregiver or home health aide assists you with. Some aides will offer driving you to appointments and other places as part of their workday.

In the end, supporting seniors to remain in the homes they love provides many advantages, not just for the elderly adult at home and those who love them, but for society as well. Aging in place alleviates some of the burden on the healthcare system, especially skilled nursing facilities, and can save a significant amount of money. Aging in place allows someone to live in their own home for longer, which can contribute quite positively to their well-being.

Alert1 is here to support all seniors who wish to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.