In recent years, there has been a significant shift occurring in the dynamics of long-term care for senior citizens. There are a few key differences between the senior citizens of today and the seniors of twenty to thirty years ago: today’s senior citizens are living longer, they have more income, they are more accustomed to modern creature comforts, and they increasingly prefer to “age in place,” a term that means they wish to remain at home with the assistance of a home healthcare provider rather than enter full-time nursing homes.
The US population continues to age rapidly, as indicated by projections delivered in October 2016 by the Population Reference Bureau stating, “[…] the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060.” This rapid shift in the population demographics of our country means that today’s seniors represent a large slice of the US economy, and they are using this purchasing power to secure their best chance for future health and happiness, which they do not envision taking place in traditional nursing homes.
While nursing homes do remain a necessity for both older adults and younger adults who are very ill and thus require 24-hour medical care from nursing professionals, they now appear to be less than suitable for those who do not need such intensive care. According to a 2005 AARP study, nearly half of all nursing home residents had dementia, and more than half also spent most of their time in bed or in a wheelchair. For seniors who are more active and healthy, being sequestered away in these discouraging surroundings may spark depression, reduced movement, and premature decline.
When senior citizens merely require help with errands, cooking, light housekeeping, and managing medical appointments, the best long term care can usually be provided in their own homes. A home health care worker can visit them daily (or as needed), providing assistance in a wide range of areas. Naturally, given the option, the elderly almost always prefer to remain at home in comforting and familiar surroundings. Indeed, for many seniors, staying at home while being cared for by a home health care worker is the safest and most medically sound choice.
When aging adults cannot safely remain in their own homes due to a loss of mobility or onset of disease, but are not so ill that they require the familiar model of round-the-clock nursing care, assisted living facilities are an increasingly attractive option. Even so, for many aging adults who are experiencing symptoms from disease, a valid alternative to entering an assisted living center is to work with an at home medical caregiver. Dallas home health care specialist company, CareStaf, provides seniors in the greater Dallas area with medical home health care services in the comfort of their own home.
Those who require round-the-clock medical assistance can choose between moving to an assisted living facility or working with a skilled medical caregiver in the home. Assisted living facilities usually offer a continuum of care ranging from nearly hands-off to nearly full-time nursing care, but one thing that remains constant is their dedication to providing their residents with a comforting second home.
It’s important to look for an assisted living facility that has been cleverly designed to look and feel more like long-term residences than hospital rooms, offering either private or shared rooms with many creature comforts. Some facilities will offer beneficial classes such as yoga, tai chi, art, music, dance, and meditation, and promote social interactions with clubs and regular outings into the surrounding community. In these comfortable surroundings, the elderly can either recuperate for the eventual return to their own private homes or permanently relocate, depending on their needs.
For those who are eventually able to return home, chances are good that they will still benefit from having a home health caregiver who is available to attend to their needs. Often, the adult children of the seniors in need of care wish to do everything on their own to care for their aging parents.
Home health care and assisted living facilities are options to help these seniors’ adult children care for their parents in familiar surroundings without putting their own busy lives and careers on hold for indefinite periods of time. Because of the grim mental images the term “nursing home” so often calls to mind, most families today are terrified at the thought of placing their beloved elders in such homes and they will do anything to find better options that are ideal for both themselves and their parents.
Many children will often go so far as to promise their parents that they will never place them in nursing homes. This is an easy promise to make when your parent is still relatively young, active and healthy. Naturally, no one who truly loves and cares about their parents wants to envision them wasting away in a nursing home. Furthermore, the end of life should be just as enjoyable and rewarding as the beginning of life. Getting older should not have to mean being sequestered away, lying in bed all day.
However, as the years wear on and their parents begin to suffer from disease and the natural progression of aging, a huge number of these adult children will eventually find themselves unable to care for their parents alone at home. Sometimes, this may happen mere short months or years after such promises were made to keep the parent(s) out of a nursing facility. When they realize they cannot keep their promise, adult children usually feel guilty and helpless, no more wishing to confine their parents to nursing homes than their parents wish to be sent to them. Increasingly, families are determined to find suitable alternatives to nursing homes.
While even in recent years only the more affluent segments of the population could afford to keep their elderly family members at home with an in-home caregiver or place them in a comfortable assisted living facility, that too has begun to change. In October 2016, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reported that “four out of five states are expanding home care benefits through Medicaid and 16 states are even beginning to provide housing services with their Medicaid dollars.” Insurance coverage is expected to continue to change in an attempt to catch up with the mounting consumer demand for home-based health care and living facilities that will cater to the active lifestyle and social interaction that seniors require to continue living happy, healthy and fulfilled lives.
This news is so exciting, both for the aging population and for their children who are struggling to care for them. As more and more insurance coverage becomes available to spend on at home health caregivers, more and more of the elderly population will be able to live out their retirement and beyond in comfort, surrounded by family and familiarity. Studies clearly demonstrate that seniors, along with ill patients of all ages, who are able to remain solidly and actively a part of their families (as much as their illness allows) are happier and actually live longer than their counterparts who live out the end of their lives in depressing, dreary and dour nursing homes.
This clear trend in consumer demand has also impacted nursing homes as one might expect, with hospitals and other medicare-funded facilities deciding that they can keep these facilities profitable only by shifting their focus from providing only full-time nursing care toward also meeting the needs of those who require only minimal medical care on a daily basis. Seniors today, armed with decades of research into health and aging, are being guided to turn away from long-term nursing facilities and instead seriously considering that they should choose freedom, positive social interactions, and the opportunity to participate in rewarding hobbies and activities in their golden years.
This shift in focus has the potential to ensure that in the very near future, the elderly in our communities will have more options to choose from where they can remain engaged, happy, and vibrant for many years more while receiving the assistance they require medically. This would seem to indicate that the more we provide our seniors with happy twilight years, the longer they will remain healthy enough to fully enjoy them. The demand for alternatives to full-time nursing facilities is thus expected to be a permanent, self-perpetuating shift in how we care for our elderly rather than a brief surge in the popularity of alternative options.