Ask the Expert: Maintaining Independence

By December 28, 2018Ask the Expert

by Kate Pomplun, LMSW, CMC

Question: “I live alone and have for over 40 years. I never married and do not have a local support system in place. I would like to ensure that I am able to stay in my own home and believe I have the financial resources to do that. What do I need to set up to make sure that happens?”

Answer: Maintaining independence and a quality of life in order to age in place are important to many older adults in our country. Thankfully, there are a number of services and organizations to help with this so that you do not need to call on family members in order to be taken care of at home. (Side note – even if you do have family members who can care for you at home, you may still make use of the options listed below). No one can predict the future or know what health outcomes might arise, but these are the first steps to consider in creating a plan to age comfortably in your own home: 

1) Your overall health: What diagnosis or health conditions do you currently have? Talk with your doctor about how these may impact your ability to get around your home and your community. How will these conditions impact activities, including the instrumental activities of daily living (self-care tasks as well as driving, meal preparation, household chores, balancing a checkbook, etc.)? Chronic health issues may change over time, and understanding and having a plan for such changes will help you manage your health over the long term. 

2) Finances: Thoroughly examine and know what services cost and what your financial resources allow for. There are many misconceptions about what Medicare covers as well as how far savings can realistically go. If you don’t already have a financial planner, this would be an excellent time to find and meet with one. You’ll also want to consider what, if any, benefits you qualify for such as a specialized benefit that can compensate for in-home care for veterans and their spouses, or how to utilize the long term care insurance policy you’ve been paying on all these years.

3) Consider your environment: Is your home conducive to remaining in place as your health needs change? Is it or can it be made wheelchair accessible? Is the only bathroom upstairs? Specially trained home accessibility consultants can help you determine what your space may need to make it comfortable for life as your needs shift over time. 

4) Utilize technology & modern conveniences: Aging in place can only be successful if you can remain well cared for and safe in your current home. Consider an emergency response system. Many are cellular based and often have fall detection. You can keep it simple or get advanced systems with GPS tracking. Another modern convenience to make use of is ordering your groceries online and picking them up or having them delivered. There are many healthier and higher-quality home delivery meal options on the market, which you can utilize if cooking for one becomes cumbersome. 

5) Delegate care: Once you know your financial resources, and as health needs change, consider hiring a caregiver or caregiving agency to provide someone who can help with the above tasks. You can even interview caregivers/agencies prior to needing assistance to get a feel for the best fit for your lifestyle and budget. (Tips for this could fill an entirely separate column). You can ease into services by hiring someone to do household tasks or transportation even when you’re still able to perform self-care without assistance, which makes the transition to higher levels of care smoother and easier to navigate. 

6) Build your team:Various professionals besides caregivers can help navigate aging in place. Aging Life Care Managers™ (formerly termed geriatric care managers) are trained to assist clients in attaining their maximum functional potential. These professionals are able to address a broad range of issues related to the well-being of their client. They also have extensive knowledge about the costs, quality, and availability of resources in their communities. They can ensure that your wishes are met even if you become unable to express them yourself. You might also benefit from engaging with an elder law attorney and a financial planner, who can help manage the financial and legal intricacies of navigating the second 50 years of life. 

Again, no one can predict the future, but if aging in place is your goal, having a plan to do so successfully is possible. Planning ahead can definitely pay off and enable you to create the healthiest, safest and most independent environment possible. 

Kate Pomplun is the owner of Aging Care Solutions in Southern Pines and a contract care manager for Aging Outreach Services.
She may be reached at kate@agingcaresolutionsnc.com.