Nursing Home Alternatives: 3 Ways Seniors Can Age In Place

October 1, 2018
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In the past, our elderly patients had limited options for their final years. They could move in with family or be placed in nursing homes if they needed more specialized care. According to a study by AARP, however, neither of these options is exactly what seniors want. Rather, 87% of adults over 65 want to age in place; they want to maintain their independence and remain in their own homes. And that takes support.

Before releasing patients from the hospital, it’s important that we help them assess the home environment for safety, provide education regarding necessary follow-up treatment, and ensure they have access to necessary supports. Programs like these are gaining popularity across the country and by helping patients connect with local structures, we can help them age in place regardless of medical circumstances.

Go Village To Village

The first Village to Village group formed over 15 years ago in Beacon Hill Village in Boston as a way to build strong community, minimize isolation, and help individuals share their talents – in large part so that elderly residents can remain in their homes as they age. But the system was so successful that it couldn’t remain isolated to Beacon Hill. Instead, since 2010, the Village to Village Network has acted as a national organizing body to support community-based care, and today there are over 200 Village to Village communities in the United States, and 150 more in development.

Many patients prefer the Village to Village structure to more formal care systems because they replicate older models of neighborhood connection and inter-reliance. What’s more, younger community members understand that they’re offering their talents and that they will be provided with similar support as they age. When elderly residents ask a neighbor for a ride or help taking out the trash, there’s no shame or feeling of obligation. They’re just acting like neighbors.

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Connect With Home Care

Typically, nursing homes were the only option for medically complex seniors, but the growing emphasis on aging in place has fueled growth in the home nursing sector. Coordinating that care, however, can be more challenging, and that’s where healthcare consultants come into the picture.

The major advantage of home healthcare consulting is that it helps patients receive personalized care, as guided by experienced professionals. As explained by Feinberg Consulting, a group with over 20 years of experience providing client-focused home care, “By providing in-home nursing services, we can better support medically vulnerable seniors without forcing them into a nursing home or other institutional setting.” If patients can get the level of expert care and oversight in-home, why would we force them out of their homes?

Contact Your Local Council

Did you know many communities offer services for elderly community members? Often housed under the heading Council on Aging, or a similar title, these local government groups offer a variety of services to help seniors remain comfortably in their communities – and that includes healthcare services. In the small Massachusetts town of Shutesbury, for example, the local Council on Aging offers rides to medical and dental appointments, holds foot clinics since injuries like ulcers can cause serious health issues, and even houses an Aging in Place task force designed to help match seniors with local services.

In some areas, the Council on Aging is a state operation, such as Tennessee’s Commission on Aging and Disability, and these groups can also help your patients find community-based supports. For example, recently the Commission has placed an emphasis on affordable housing and home renovation for seniors because one of the leading barriers to aging in place is access. Local groups like Westminster Home Connection have been involved in modifying homes for wheelchair access, installing grab bars, and forming groups to mow lawns and take out the trash. These little changes can help keep seniors in affordable housing at a reasonable cost to the community, rather than pushing them into expensive institutional care.

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Across the board, doctors and social workers need to build connections with their local Council on Aging or equivalent services, so they know where to direct patients seeking in-home support. The fact is that local leadership, not national organizations like AARP, is typically the best prepared to help patients connect with regional services. Unfortunately, because those organizations get the majority of press, they’re often the first point of contact when local groups could do a better job.

Aging in place is an essential right for older individuals, and we need to reflect on how our care plans support their aims – and that’s why local groups are your best resource. They know the community and those seniors are their parents and grandparents. Listen to them and connect. Your patients will get better care if you do.