Is Aging in Place Always the Best Choice?

With a dearth of affordable housing for seniors, aging in place can seem to be a practical solution for many older adults.  But aging alone can be a isolating experience, especially for elderly adults who have mobility problems or can no longer drive.  And older adults that experience a language barrier are at even greater risk of becoming disconnected from their communities by electing to age at home.

According to a recent Vancouver Courier report, the city’s Age-Friendly Action Plan reveals that nearly a third of Vancouver seniors live alone, over half of those are women and nearly a quarter don’t speak or understand English.   In response to these challenges the older population faces, many communities are acknowledging that staying at home isn’t always best for seniors and developing neighborhoods that take into account the needs of a rapidly aging population will better support seniors as their need for assistance grows. 

A recent study, published in The Gerontologist, found that although 85 per cent of Canadians over the age of 55 want to stay in their home for as long as possible, even if they are experiencing health problems or a decline in physical function, this decision may not be in the best interest of seniors or their health.  The study evaluated the impact closely located community-based services have on the independence, mobility and social participation of seniors. Researchers determined that having access to services including a transit system, senior centre, health clinic, grocery store and banking with a mile of home was crucial to aging successfully in place.

We now know that social isolation is detrimental to our health, especially in older age, and can increase the risk for heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, dementia and even suicide.  In a University of California study, loneliness was linked with an increase in functional decline and death in adults over the age of 60.   And while the familiarity of home may be a comfort for older adults, remaining at home where seniors are isolated from friends and community can result in poorer health and overall well-being.

Municipalities are beginning to recognize the importance of developing age-friendly housing for seniors that allows for easy access to services while maintaining social connectivity.  Making the decision to move to more accessible and well-located housing can be difficult for older adults but for many, the community of an age friendly neighborhood will better support the needs of seniors than staying in place.