Aging is an unavoidable part of life.
How you age and the way you spend your last years is something you do have some control over, however.
Experts recently came together to discuss the idea of “aging in place” at the February Health Forum of West Michigan, a monthly panel discussion focusing on current health trends.
Dr. Iris Boettcher is a geriatric specialist for Spectrum Health Medical Group. She said our needs from a medical perspective change as we age. Checkups shift from chronic health indicators to things such as balance, incontinence, cognitive and sensory impairment.
She looks at patients’ “Blue Zone” markers, characteristics identified as important to living an independent and fulfilled life well into old age. These include being able to move naturally, having a purpose in life, a healthy diet, belonging to a tribe and some sense of spirituality.
As far as knowing when the time is right to consider moving into an assisted-living facility or bringing help into the home, Boettcher said people should try to understand their needs.
“It’s really important for people to understand what matters most to them,” Boettcher said.
The range of care options can be personalized to best suit an individual’s personality and preferences, said Mina Breuker, president and CEO, Christian Living Services/Holland Home. From retirement communities, which some describe as a “cruise ship on land” to in-home help with cleaning and meal preparation, options are out there.
Technology – from medical dispensers that remind you to take your prescriptions to floor sensors, video monitoring and telehealth services – can also make a big difference for seniors who want to remain in their homes.
Indeed, some seniors do better in their own familiar surroundings, said Julie Alicki, social work consultant, Area Agency on Aging of West Michigan. She recommended that families sit down together to develop comprehensive plans before a crisis happens. Determining ahead of time where and how you want to live if you lose your mobility or cognitive abilities, relieves your family members of having to make those decisions for you, alleviating family strife.
From a population health perspective, the proportion of the U.S. population reaching their retirement years and beyond continues to rise, said Richard Kline, senior deputy director, Aging and Adult Services Agency for the State of Michigan. There are currently 2.2 million residents 60 years old and older in the state and that number is expected to double in the next 40 years.
For fiscal year 2015, Kline said funding for senior services increased by five percent, while demand for services increased by 10 percent. He said long-term planning by policymakers is required to address the need, and should be combined with care innovations that can be achieved through technology to ensure best outcomes for seniors.
Boettcher pointed out that as difficult as it may be to face, death is the inevitable outcome for everyone. At some point, priorities for care might need to shift to independence and quality of life, not necessarily avoiding death.
On a home visit, Alicki recounted her experience with a 92-year-old acutely aware that time was of the essence.
“Aging ain’t for sissies,” she informed her.
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Photo credit: woodleywonderworks