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Long Term Care: What Is Aging in Place?

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When you ask your parents about their long-term care plans, their response may remind you of Jennifer Hudson in the movie Dreamgirls singing, “And I'm telling you I'm not going!” Most older adults want to stay in their current home as they age.

But the home you or your parent or other relative have lived in for years may not serve well now or in the future. Modifications may be necessary to accommodate changing needs, and you may need people and services to help with many tasks that you or your parents are no longer able or willing to do.

Be sure to look through some of the options available for home modification and obtaining outside help from family members and services. You should also review plans you should have in place to prepare the house and your family for a disaster such as a hurricane or flood or a more common event such as a power outage.

Aging in place is a new name for an old idea: staying in your own home until you die. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a broader and more complicated definition: “the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”

This definition adds conditions to the circumstances under which aging in place should occur. The person has to meet all three conditions — be safe, comfortable, and able to live independently. Living independently may mean living alone without any outside help or it may mean being able to live alone only if outside help is available. The critical element is being able to choose what you do and when you do it.

Sometimes these conditions conflict. Your parent may be quite comfortable at home, but the home may not be safe. Or the home may be safe, but she cannot manage on her own. Or all those conditions may be met, but you or your parents don't have enough income or assets to support the arrangement.

The CDC's definition also includes living in your community as part of its standard. This adds another layer of complexity. What exactly is a community? What if the home is safe but the neighborhood is not? What if the person does not have a community of people nearby who are able to help out as needed?

Living alone should not mean living in isolation. So what seems to be a straightforward definition turns out to be complicated. You can do a lot to make sure all these elements are in place, but of course some things are beyond any individual's control.

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