Aging in Place
“Safe Today. Healthy Tomorrow.” is the theme of Older American’s Month in May – a time to reflect on research that helps older Americans stay healthy and active.
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, adults over 50 are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. As these adults near retirement age, it becomes more likely that they will suffer health problems that may limit their ability to care for themselves. Although it is impossible to avoid aging, it is possible to prepare for the challenges one may face through proper planning for the future. With the help of home safety modifications, regular exercise, and alternative community housing opportunities elderly residents can prolong their independence while living longer and healthier lives.
“Healthy aging is the development and maintenance of optimal physical, mental and social well-being and function,” said Marcia Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H., Regents and Distinguished Professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health and Director of the Program on Healthy Aging. “It is most likely to be achieved when physical environments and communities are safe and support the attitudes and behaviors known to promote health and well-being.”
According to Ory, exercise can be the best medicine to manage chronic illnesses and prevent future health problems. Staying active has shown to increase not only physical capabilities, but mental status as well, improving self-esteem and confidence in older adults.
Adults have more options than ever to prolong their time and safety at home. For instance, installing simple home modifications to improve accessibility and safety can be a good way to compensate for changes in physical and cognitive abilities.
From retrofitting the home with grab bars and railings, to automatic lights, movement sensors and electronic medication reminders, aging adults can have the support they need without much added cost or burden to their daily life. These home adjustments offer physical and mental support, a sense of independence, and also provide families with a security that their loved ones are safe.
Another available option is a planned retirement community. These communities provide an environment where residents can remain active and engaged through social gatherings and recreational programs with living accommodations tailored to their needs. An added benefit to these communities is they often provide lifetime health care services, making it easier for residents to get the care they need in a familiar environment.
“Community cohesion and neighborhood design can make a difference for many older adults living in a retirement community,” said Ory. “Houses that are relatively close together can give residents a sense that they are not alone and that they have someone looking out for their well being.”
“I think it is wonderful living in a retirement community,” said Beverly Kunckel who lives in Arbor Oaks, a retirement community in Bryan, Texas. “You have friendships, available activities, good food, and you can be as independent or social as you want..”
In addition to the added support provided by the staff and residents of a retirement community, individuals also have the potential to increase physical activity and promote healthier living for residents through community activities and available exercise options. Residents can also take advantage of organized group exercise activities that may be tailored to their community such as group walks on lighted streets, sidewalks and walking trails.
“Most Americans want to remain in their homes and communities as long as they can,” said Ory. “With the help of environmental, technological and social supports, older adults can take a proactive approach to improving their health and living longer and more independent lives.”