Aging in place becoming more popular, possible

In the latest installment in The Associated Press series on growing old in America, David Crary explores how the health care system is evolving to accommodate “aging in place” and seniors’ preference to remain in their private homes, even at points when their health care situation might seem to suggest relocation is in order. As the population ages, this preference is starting to play a role in policy decisions.

There’s no question that aging in place has broad appeal. According to an Associated poll conducted in October, 52 percent of baby boomers said they were unlikely to move someplace new in retirement. In a 2005 survey by AARP, 89 percent of people age 50 and older said they would prefer to remain in their home indefinitely as they age.

Communities have explored a number of programs to better serve this population, and Crary profiled some of the more notable efforts, including:

  • The Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC)

    … can be either a specific housing complex or a larger neighborhood in which many of the residents have aged in place over a long period of time and need a range of support services in order to continue living in their homes.

  • “Village” organizations

    Members of these nonprofit entities can access specialized programs and services, such as transportation to stores, home health care, or help with household chores, as well as a network of social activities with other members.

    About 65 village organizations have formed in the U.S. in recent years, offering varying services and charging membership fees that generally range between $500 and $700 a year.

  • Aging-friendly homes

    AARP has teamed up with the National Association of Home Builders to create a designation for certified aging in place specialists trained in designing and modifying residences for the elderly. Several thousand builders, contractors, remodelers and architects have been certified. Building or remodeling homes can include such details as touchless faucets, trim kitchen drawers instead of cupboards, grab bars and nonslip floors in the bathrooms.

    Arizona’s Pima County, along with a few other local governments, has gone a step further, passing an ordinance requiring that all new homes in the unincorporated areas around Tucson offer a basic level of accessibility. They must have at least one entrance with no steps. Minimum heights and widths are set so that light switches can be easily reached and doorways are passable in a wheelchair.

  • Medicaid changes

    In several states, there’s debate about whether to promote aging in place by shifting more Medicaid dollars to community-based programs and away from traditional nursing facilities. But budget problems may complicate such efforts as some financially struggling states cut back on home health services that help keep some elderly people out of nursing homes.

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