Every stage of life has a set of goals and transitions individuals go through, and that includes older adults. As one Upstate Medical University professor argues, it is never too soon to consider how an individual wants to spend their final years.
Everyone needs to take time to sit down and decide how and where they want to age, according to Sharon Brangman, chair of the Geriatrics Department at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. She advised doing it sooner sooner rather than later.
“It’s important as we get older, especially as we approach our 80s, to start thinking about things important to us to make us maintain our quality of life, and our independence, in the face of changes that could be happening with our physical body as well as our brainpower and that sort of thing,” Brangman said.
According to the American Association of Retired People, most folks want to stay in their home. According to a 2018 survey of individuals over 50, more than 3 in 4 people, 77%, said they would prefer to stay in their current house as they age. That same survey though shows only half think they will be able to stay put. It is deciding what options are out there that need to be part of the discussion, Brangman said.
“That might include staying in your home but having services come in or moving into an assisted living facility, for example, where those services can be provided,” Brangman said. “Some people move into an in-law suite with children. Most people we work with want to maintain independence and not be a burden of their children.”
Brangman said for many older individuals, there are certain activities that become more difficult as they age. She calls them instrumental needs: things like housekeeping, getting to a grocery store or dealing with yard work. Although this can become an issue at any age, depending on the health of an individual, pretty much everyone will find it hard to maintain their younger lifestyle once they reach the age of 85.
“The sad fact is that many of us will have some degree of dependancy,” Brangman said.
If aging at home is a choice, JoAnne Spoto Decker of the Onondaga County Department of Aging and Youth in Syracuse said the federal government has that covered. There are many support services available for people over the age of 60 that can be easily accessed.
“They’ve been available through the Older American’s act since 1965,” Spoto Decker said. “And that’s the goal of the Older American’s Act, keeping people safe in their home and aging in place.”
Spoto Decker also said that these services do more than just get someone to a senior center or grocery store. They offer socialization that can be key to healthy aging. She said, often, isolation for older folks can lead to depression. Another initiative that has gotten more attention recently, Spoto Decker said, is preventing falls.
“We are able to work with older adults to do minor home modifications, to help reduce the risk of fall,” Spoto Decker said. “We know when an older adult falls, it’s a trajectory towards rehab and possibly long-term care, so we’re trying to be on the preventive side of that.”
Spoto Decker said that technology is making it easier for individuals to keep contact with families, as well as get help quickly in their home if they need it.
But before any of this can happen, there has to be a discussion. Brangman said people ought to broach the subject in their 60s. By the time a person reaches their 80s, any flexibility wilts away.
“In my experience, people are afraid to start this discussion because they can be hard topics to deal with,” Brangman said. “But, if you postpone the discussion, you end up making the decision in a crisis situation when you might have limited options.”