Policy in Senior Living: 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), isn’t one of them. 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.

david-schells-avatar“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

Lonely Elderly WomanThose who are loath to consider senior living may have misperceptions of what these 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 communities bear little resemblance to the facilities of old.

In addition, outfitting 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 has also made living at home a viable option. But just because you can stay in your home doesn’t mean you should, saysSchless.

“I believe the benefits of socialization outweigh having someone receive services in their home—having human contact 15 minutes a day and spending the rest of the day watching TV,” he explains.

Making the Move

Elderly woman and young woman walkingDr. Karl Pillemer would agree. In his “Why You Shouldn’t Age Alone” video on ASHA’s Where You Live Matters site, the Cornell University gerontologist shares his take on the home vs. senior living debate.

dr-karl-avatar“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.

And remember: this community becomes your loved one’s 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 this new life stage. By adopting this mindset, the transition may be smoother, and the older adult may have an easier time adjusting to a new normal, finding fulfillment, and avoiding isolation.

“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. And be sure you 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.

In the end, though living at home may be comfortable and familiar, the lack of community and strong social network gives cause for pause.

“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.”

Stay tuned for more tips and insights at 
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Content for Open Conversations was developed in partnership with Caregiving Advice.

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