Aging in Place vs. Senior Living: Which is Best?
When faced with the choice between aging in place and moving to a senior living community, many believe that aging in place is preferable. But David Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), disagrees. Though he admits there are widely divergent views on the subject — even among gerontologists themselves — he believes the benefits of senior living outweigh the perks of staying at home.
“There are a lot of very bright, very influential people who believe — I think mistakenly — that the best option for seniors is to stay in their homes for as long as possible,” he says. “But I am a big believer that there are enormous benefits for people who move into good senior housing.” David Schless, president of the American Senior Housing Association
Living at Home
The ability to outfit homes with the latest technologies has made aging in place more feasible than ever before. Smart devices such as refrigerators, speakers, medication dispensers, and even toilets enable remote health and safety monitoring. And hiring help with meals, errands, and transportation makes at-home elder care even easier. But just because you can stay in your home doesn’t mean you should, says Schless.
“I believe the benefits of socialization outweigh having someone receive services in their home — in other words, having human contact 15 minutes a day and spending the rest of the day watching TV,” he explains.
Additionally, some seniors may have misconceptions of what senior living communities are really like. Many remember the institutional nursing homes of yesteryear and want no part of that bleak reality — not realizing that today’s senior living communities bear little resemblance to what they’ve imagined.
Making the Move
Dr. Karl Pillemer would agree with Schless. In his video, “Why You Shouldn’t Age Alone,” on ASHA’s Where You Live Matters site, the Cornell University gerontologist shares his take on the home vs. senior living debate.
“I don’t know how we got the idea that it’s good to grow old alone,” he says. “Throughout human history, that’s almost never happened.” Dr. Karl Pillemer, PhD, gerontologist Cornell University and best selling author
In fact, the social isolation affecting homebound and semi-homebound older adults not only leads to depression, but also lowers the ability to fight illness. Dr. Pillemer believes that moving into a senior community can solve the problem of isolation, which is why he says more people should consider senior living — and do so sooner rather than later. Because the sooner you make the move, the more time you’ll have to take advantage of all the community has to offer.
“One of the trends we’ve seen over the past 10 or 15 years is a clear increase in the age of people moving into independent living,” says Schless. “When that happens, they have more health issues, and typically shorter stays.”
Instead, Schless recommends researching senior living while your loved one is healthy enough to enjoy it. Take the opportunity to see each community firsthand to address any fears or misperceptions your family may have, and to embrace all that senior living has to offer.
Although living at home may be comfortable and familiar, the lack of community and strong social network gives cause for pause, so it’s important to give all of your options for elder care a fair evaluation before making up your mind.
“Yes, we have this value of aging on our own,” says Dr. Pillemer. “But many, many more people can and should explore the idea of how they’ll maintain a community life in aging.”
If your loved one chooses to move into a senior living facility, remember that this community becomes their new home. While that shift in perspective takes time for some people — especially for those who spent decades in the house from which they transitioned — it’s essential that everyone involved regard it as such.
When family members or friends visit, they should treat the community as home. Other residents and staff are like neighbors. Daily routines and meals happen just as they did at home. Special events are celebrated as they were at home, with some adjustments for the requirements of elder care. By adopting this mindset, the transition may be smoother, and the older adult may have an easier time adjusting to their new normal, finding fulfillment and building community.
If you’re just starting this journey, consider taking this 5-minute survey to assess your situation and determine whether it’s the right time for senior living for you or your loved one.