The Argument for Aging in Place

If you’re like the majority of Americans, you want to continue living in a familiar environment throughout your maturing years.

In life, sooner or later, the house that was built for an “average” family does not work and one of the greatest concerns people have as they grow older is that they may have to leave their home. In fact an AARP survey found the number of Americans desiring to stay in their homes for the rest of their lives, to “Age in Place”, to be greater than 80%.

Aging in Place means living in your homes safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age or ability level.

Whether for physical, geographic, or monetary reasons, much of the aging population will someday have to face this issue. This possibly means leaving behind a comfortable living space, family, a familiar community and many memories. In addition, a certain amount of control is lost when a person gives up their home. This “control” provides the bases to our feelings of dignity, quality of life and independence. One’s Home, their Haven, is a strong element in that sense of security.

As health care costs rise and stays at hospitals or even transitional care get shorter, the aging population must decide how they want to spend their hard earned dollars. According to the MetLife Market Survey of Nursing Homes & Assisted Living Costs (October 2008), the national average for a private room in a nursing home is $69,715 annually and for a private room in an assisted living center it is over $36,000. Additionally, given for example the recent budget agreement/deal reached in California this month we can expect less and less social services to be funded leaving many to have to do some serious out of the box thinking of how to stretch their assets further and if one can extend the usability and livability of their current home for a few more years then that might be the smart thing to do.

California has some of the highest nursing home and assisted living costs in the nation so careful consideration must be taken when deciding to give up your home, lose up to 20% of its value in the current real estate market, and pay for these institutions or to instead to choose to “age in place”.

Keep in mind that there is no one size fits all solutions here and seeking the advice of qualified professionals to help you navigate your choices is key. Specialists in A.D.A/ Barrier-free/ Universal design, elderly and in home care and specialty care givers focus on improving quality of life by enabling, enhancing, ensuring and maintaining independence. They will be able to help you develop affordable, effective solutions to create a safe, accessible living environment that would allow anyone, healthy, impaired or disabled to remain in their home or business.

Americans of all ages value their ability to live independently. But without a plan for aging in place, it can be hard to stay in control of your life. Most people find it hard to look that far ahead because they don’t like to think about the inevitability of aging. People often misjudge their chances of developing a debilitating health condition. The fact of the matter is that growing older is a part of life and not enough people adequately plan ahead for the eventual problems of the elderly and disabled. Too much optimism or denial can lead to poor planning.

Photo credit: Bill Barber

About the Author: Raad Ghantous is the principal of Raad Ghantous & Associates and is an expert in luxury hospitality, wellness centers, and medical & day spa developments.  He is also the owner of Your Home For A Lifetime, an A.D.A/ Barrier-free/ Universal design/Aging in place, full service design/build firm with over 15 years of experience  specializing in developing integrating elegant and seamless designs/modifications to new or existing structures.

New Podcast Series: Leaders in Elder Care and Howard Gleckman

We are in the midst of a massive generational shift.  Much has been written about the demographics of Baby Boomers and how it represents the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world.

But not much has been written about the non-economic impact of Baby Boomers and how our system of elder care must adapt to care for them.

Regardless of whether you prefer home care, aging in place, independent living or assisted living, Baby Boomers require a new way of thinking.

They are living different lifestyles and have different preferences.  They are technology-savvy and more connected online.

There exists a small and growing group of individuals who are driving the change in elder care required to serve the Baby Boomer generation.  They are the authors and advocates, executives and lobbyists, professors and politicians.

They are the faces behind the change.

They are the Leaders in Elder Care.

What is Leaders in Elder Care?

Leaders in Elder Care is a new web site dedicated to sharing with you the leaders behind the change in elder care.  And we’re doing it in a way that celebrates their leadership, their ideas and their drive to make things better for a new generation of seniors.

We’re interviewing each one of these leaders, learning first hand their vision, their motivation and their contribution to making this Baby Boomer generational shift a reality.

Introducing Howard Gleckman

It is with great pleasure that I introduce our first guest Howard Gleckman, author of Caring for Our Parents.  Howard has covered long-term for many years, including several for Business Week where he was senior correspondent in the magzine’s Washington bureau.

In this 31 minute interview, Howard and I discuss the motivation for his book and the personal stories of several families  he interviewed during his research.  Howard also introduces several different models of elder care that are beginning to show real promise.  As a journalist who has covered the Washington beat for many years, I couldn’t let him off the hook with his predictions for health care legislation.

It turned out to be a great interview.  Take a listen!

Do you know a Leader in Elder Care?  Nominate one.

Universal Design: And Liberty For All…

Independence is America’s heritage and the 4th of July is a holiday that celebrates the will, courage, spirit and the soul of our nation.  It is when we honor our “declaration” and our liberation from oppression, the establishing of independence, values and noble aspirations through the gathering of family and friends as we are bonded by our common and universal liberty!

According to the dictionary liberty is defined as:

“the quality or state of being free; the power to do as one pleases; freedom from limitation; the positive enjoyment of various rights and privileges; the power of choice! freedom!”

This last weekend was a great time for me to reflect on these words and feelings, as I was trying to compose my first contribution to this blog.  As is the case often when multiple generations come together to celebrate, I had yet another opportunity to witness the enriching benefit — not only to myself — but to the community as a whole, that the companionship, experience and wisdom of seniors brings.

Loss of Freedoms

Many seniors, however, feel like they’ve lost their liberty, freedom of choice and independence as they age, even in their own homes.  In fact many are having to consider staying in their own homes longer due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the current downturn in the economy. And yet in order to do so, modifications are needed for them to remain there in comfort and safety.

Unsurprisingly when asked, people as a whole just want to stay home and families want to stay together. In fact, according to a recent study by AARP, “83% of today’s Boomers  aged 55-64 plan to age in place.”  And yet an essential component of this trend, the use of universal design to accommodate aging in place, is still as infrequently applied in the residential arena today as it was in 1994 when I graduated from design school!

What is Universal Design?

Universal design is a philosophy to create through conscious awareness appropriate living environments, places and products that everyone can use safely and comfortably regardless of their changing needs overtime as they age.  It strives to be responsive to the needs of as many people as possible, regardless of age, mobility, gender, race, language or economic status – thus the word “universal!”

In fact, everyone can benefit from incorporating universal design into their projects. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, able or disabled, building a new home or making changes to your existing one.

Universal Design Features

Some basic universal design features include step-free entrances, wide enough interior doorways, corridors and passage ways.  For example, a floor plan where a bedroom, kitchen, some entertainment space and at least one full bathroom with maneuvering space for a wheelchair or walker enables in-home care.  It also enables a caregiver to effectively perform their duties.

In upcoming blogs we will explore the many issues surrounding the concept of aging in place.  We’ll look at its many definitions as it applies to one’s own home, downsizing, continuing care retirement communities (CCRC), other venues for long term or transitional care.

We’ll also look at the growing trend of making our homes “visitable” or designed in such a way that it can be lived in or visited by people who have trouble with steps or who use wheelchairs or walkers.  We’ll look at the different ways universal design can create for everyone their own Independence Day!

photo credit: Raad Ghantous

About the Author: Raad Ghantous is the principal of Raad Ghantous & Associates and is an expert in luxury hospitality, wellness centers, and medical & day spa developments.  He is also the owner of Your Home For A Lifetime, an A.D.A/ Barrier-free/ Universal design/Aging in place, full service design/build firm with over 15 years of experience  specializing in developing integrating elegant and seamless designs/modifications to new or existing structures.

Airplane Races at Atria Woodbridge

As I did when I visited Belmont Village Cardiff, I try and share my tour experiences when possible as there are some very dedicated people out there building and operating great communities.

I had a unique opportunity a few weeks ago to spend some time with the executive director of Atria Senior Living’s community in Irvine, California.  Atria Woodbridge is a relatively new community built in 2001.  The executive director, Ladd Roberts, has only been there a few years, but you can tell in the way he speaks about the property that he has an enormous amount of pride in what he does.  That’s one of the main things I look for in an assisted living community, so it was refreshing to get the vibe from the beginning of our discussion.

Convenient Location

Atria Woodbridge is set between two major freeways in Orange County – the 5 and the 405 (yes, Californians actually do say “the” in front of highway numbers).  This makes the community easily accessible from Los Angeles, San Diego and the Inland Empire (an area east of Orange County).  It’s also only about 8-10 miles from John Wayne Airport, which I would argue is one of the easiest airports in the country to fly through.

Atria Woodbridge is tucked between two upscale strip malls, making shopping, dining and small conveniences only a few steps away.  They’ve done a good job lining the community with trees to present a clean separation between the shopping center and the community.  Outside the entrance sits a very inviting social area with outdoor furniture.  I spend many evenings at home on the patio, and this subtle touch brought some nice memories and made a good impression.

A Grand Entry

Walking in, the first thing I noticed was the cathedral ceiling.  The ceiling had exposed beams much like you would see at a ski lodge and serve a great purpose in opening up the entrance and “presenting” the community to new visitors.  Under the rotunda a few steps down the hall sits a grand piano.  It is the focal point of the room and the divider between the residences to the right and the activities and dining room to the left.

Real Librarians?

Most all assisted living communities have a library or community room of some sort.  A few things struck me as unique at this community.  First, a second piano was placed just to the left of the entrance. Ladd Roberts told me this particular piano belonged to one of the residents.  I smiled because I can imagine the sense of homeliness that resident must feel knowing their “baby” is here with them.  It was certainly a nice touch by Ladd to make this a centerpiece of the room.

Second, a two-sided fireplace separated the room, which added a great deal of privacy and enabled it to be used for multiple things.  In fact, it was well before lunch and several groups of residents were gathered in their own groups having a nice time.  (Note: if you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I recommend visiting communities outside of dining hours to measure the social level of the residents and staff)

Finally, Ladd told me the library is staffed with retired librarian residents.  I thought this was a clever way of providing a sense of purpose to these ladies who no doubt have a great deal of pride in their former careers.

Confident Quality

In my book, I share tips on how to measure the quality of a community by interviewing general and executive staff.  I do this because many communities don’t make quality assurance and audits a focal point of their prospective resident tours, so the burden is on the customer to perform that level of due diligence.

Surprisingly, Ladd brought this up proactively during the tour and told me a little about how Atria performs internal audits.  After probing a little as to the depth of the audit, Ladd chuckled and told me that his 700 item internal audit was so detailed that he didn’t have to prepare much for the state health inspection.

To be fair, I didn’t dig into their audit paperwork and processes, but it’s been my experience that those who confidently share their quality plans and audit processes are the ones who deliver a quality product.

The Zen Master

As one might expect, Ladd was saving the best for last.  The activity area of the building wraps around a courtyard.  Ladd calls it the Zen Garden.  Why?  It was authentically decorated in a Japanese theme with waterfalls, fish and plans all over.  It was very quiet with the exception of running water from the waterfall.

Ladd says this is his place to come think, and you could tell that it was a warm and happy place for many residents.  For those residents that want a complete change of scenery, the Zen Garden will transport them to a different time and place.

Got plane?  Wanna race?

Earlier in the tour, we were walking through the activity room and there were several model planes hanging from the roof.  Ladd told me these were built by one of the residents.  He shared with me a story about how they had model airplane races in the dining room one day.  He boasted he had it on video and I convinced him to let me share it.

But before I show the video, I’ll end by saying that I was impressed with Atria Woodridge.  I was also really impressed with Ladd Roberts and his team.  I could tell he cared a great deal about his impact on the residents, and it was obvious he ran a high quality community.

Nice to meet you Ladd, and thanks for the tour!

Here’s the video: