More seniors than ever before are able to age in place as they wish. Between in-home care services and companies offering concierge services for many of the chores that previously made aging-in-place difficult like grocery shopping and housekeeping, the option to stay at home is now within reach for more seniors than it was in years past.
While that’s generally good thing, it’s brought about a few negative side effects.
Leaving the House Becomes Difficult
For a number of different reasons, many of the seniors that choose to stay in their own homes as they age increasingly begin to find it difficult to leave. In fact, almost two million seniors over 65 hardly ever leave their homes, if they do at all.
Sometimes that’s due to mobility issues like difficulty comfortably walking on their own. Sometimes it starts when a doctor or their kids tell them it’s time to stop driving. Sometimes it’s because of depression. And sometimes it’s as simple as simply not knowing where to go or what to do anymore as their connections to friends and the community fade with age.
Whatever the reasons, when seniors fail to leave the house it can cause more serious problems.
Senior loneliness is both alarmingly common and extremely serious. Not only can it cause or deepen existing depression, but it also brings a number of serious health issues with it. Seniors that are lonely have higher rates of mortality, higher blood pressure, greater susceptibility to viruses, and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
And if a senior already finds it hard to leave the house, then they’re less likely to be treated for the issues their loneliness causes, meaning it will only get worse.
For any seniors that have started this cycle, breaking it isn’t easy. But it is possible, and it’s necessary if you want to maintain health and well being in your remaining years.
The solution: get out more.
Clearly, this is easier said than done. If you make it a conscious priority to leave the house and be social though, you should be able to work more trips out of the house into your routine.
- Get the help you need.
Everything else on this list will be unhelpful if the reason you feel stuck at home has to do with health or mobility issues that keep you from being able to go out on your own. If that sounds like you, then first you have to take steps to get the help you need. If going for a walk or walking down the steps to your front door is something you can’t safely manage on your own, then you need to look into in-home care services, or see if you can find a friend or loved one who’s willing to help on a consistent basis.
Don’t try to go wandering without help if it poses a safety concern, but don’t give up all hope. If you don’t have a loved one nearby with the time to be your go-to on this, then research the home health care services in your area and start making calls.
- Research what’s in walking distance.
If mobility issues aren’t a concern (or once you’ve found someone to help) then start looking for options that leave the house that don’t require a drive. Depending on where you live, there may not be anything. But in some places, you could find a park, café, or church that you can make it to without the help of someone giving you a ride. Make sure it’s a distance you feel comfortable walking and maybe go for a test walk with a loved one the first time, to make sure you’re comfortable with the distance.
If you can find a regular spot to visit that doesn’t require finding transportation, then you’ve eliminated one of the main issues that often keeps seniors from going out.
- Look into community events.
If you live a community with an HSA or a community group, they may have events or meetings that are close to home that you can attend to meet new people. This gives you a chance to be active in your local community, meet your neighbors, and get out of the house without going too far.
Some groups like this will have things like movie nights or community garage sales you can attend as well. Pay attention to what’s coming up and make a plan to get out there for the next event they’re having.
- Pick up a consistent hobby.
There are plenty of hobbies you can do from home, but those are disqualified here. You want to specifically figure out something that gets you out of the house. It could be a book group, a weekly bridge game, a volunteer position or anything else you can find your area that interests you. Bonus points if it means you meet up with the same people consistently, so you have a chance to make new friends.
A regular hobby gives you something to commit to, which makes you more likely to stick with it over time rather than doing something once and stopping.
- Ask for help with rides.
If an inability to drive is the main thing keeping you from going out more often, then it’s time to get comfortable asking family and friends to help. Anytime you’re going somewhere that another friend will be, ask to carpool. If your kids live nearby, ask them to commit to taking you to your book group each week. Nobody likes to feel like a burden on their loved ones, but anyone who loves you will want you to be happy and healthy – which, as we’ve previously established means getting out of the house. If they understand the stakes, they should be willing to do their part.
- Consider assisted living.
Seniors are hesitant to consider assisted living because they find it easier to see what they’ll lose rather than what they’ll gain. But if you’re barely leaving the house because you find it difficult, then aging in place isn’t really providing you with the independence you may have hoped for.
Research has found that seniors who live in their own homes go outside less often than those who live in assisted living facilities. With access to the proper resources to get outside more easily and staff members around to provide any help needed, most of the barriers that keep seniors confined to their homes are lifted.
If your dream of aging in place is putting you at risk of loneliness, depression, and the many health problems that come with them, then what are you really gaining by holding out on assisted living? A point will come in the lives of most seniors where you should really carefully consider if life in your own home really is better than it would be in assisted living. If you’re honest with yourself, you may find it’s time to leave your home behind.