The Stages of Aging.
Aging is a universal experience that is often overlooked and underprepared for. By understanding the five stages of aging, you can help your loved ones navigate the aging process and make informed decisions. In this article, we will explore each stage of aging and offer practical tips and solutions to help your loved ones age comfortably and safely in their own homes.
What Are the Five Stages of Aging?
Aging doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process that can feel more cyclical than linear.
Experts generally break down aging in older adults into five basic stages:
- Crisis management
- End of life
The stages loosely follow age decades. Although, in reality, they may mix fluidly depending on life events.
What does each stage look like?
How do they impact your parents’ or other family members’ ability to live at home? You may assume that moving is inevitable. But it’s not. Often, aging in place is possible.
We’ll show you why aging doesn’t have to spell the end of living at home. Maybe you simply need to make intentional changes to the space.
Independence – 50s and 60s
For many seniors, this stage lasts through their 50s and 60s.
They can handle everyday needs on their own. Transportation, finances, health care, and house chores present no big challenge. Mental and physical activity may exhibit a minor decline, but not enough to impact their lives.
Some people maintain this level of independence into their 70s — and even 80s.
For women, this stage often encompasses the significant hormonal shifts of menopause. Estrogen levels drop, then menstruation tapers and ceases.
Your aging female relatives may experience hot flashes, mood swings, dry skin, and poor sleep. The most important support you can provide them during this stage is emotional.
Aging males also see somewhat decreased levels of testosterone. This can result in lower energy levels and loss of muscle mass, among other symptoms. But it is usually not as dramatic as menopause.
Still, with all these changes, your aging family members will likely maintain relatively good health in their 60s. They’re self-sufficient and able to handle their own errands. And their quality of life is typically quite high.
How to Support Aging Loved Ones in the Independence Stage
Think of this as the stage to simply enjoy spending time with your parents and aging relatives.
While they may not need help yet, this is a good time to sit down and talk about next steps. Evaluate their living situation, and create an aging in place plan for the future.
Take note of any existing medical issues or risk factors, such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, heart disease, or high blood pressure.
To that end, they should make some age-related changes that are almost guaranteed to improve their life as they age. These include:
- Improving diet
- Engaging in age-appropriate exercises
- Keeping regular medical appointments
- Participating in mind-sharpening activities (i.e. playing games or learning a musical instrument)
Throughout this process, stay positive and offer affirmative solutions.
Try to fold together quality time with positive lifestyle tweaks. Take the grandkids for a walk around the block. Make regular yoga/coffee dates with Mom. Do a “30 Salad Recipes in 30 days” challenge as a family.
If it seems possible to make present adjustments that will ameliorate later challenges, propose them. It’s easier to initiate change while pressure is low.
Case in point: consider aging in place home modifications to accommodate successive stages of aging. These changes will probably go over better during this relatively stable life stage.
Assure your older loved one that it can be done in a way that doesn’t feel clinical, and it will allow them to continue living at home for longer.
For instance, look into these home improvements:
- Renew flooring to minimize the risk of falls
- Add touchless faucets
- Widen hallways
- Improve lighting
- Upgrade smart technology to make electronics controllable at the touch of a button
Interdependence – 70s and 80s
How to Support Aging Loved Ones in the Dependence Stage
Instead of waiting to see what happens, encourage them to be proactive. They can employ social connections to stay engaged in games, crafts, music, reading, and generally learning as much as possible. Keep those neurons firing!
You’ll want to help them stay on top of physical check-ups, neurological tests, counselor appointments, eating a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet, and moderate exercise. No need to run triathlons!
If you haven’t already, this is a good time to consult with a professional about changes that might need to be made in the home, taking into account any current health issues that may worsen over time.
Dependency – 80s and above
How to Support Aging Loved Ones in the Interdependence Stage
How? At Live in Place Designs, we can help create living spaces designed to support individuals with a variety of issues, including dementia.
Regardless of your loved one’s specific issues, this is the stage during which home modifications tend to really start paying off.
Why? Because aging at home means familiar surroundings for your aging loved ones. Familiar routines. More control over what they do and how they live.
Going through the aging process is hard enough without disrupting their roots.
How to Enable Dependent Loved Ones to Stay in the Home
You may have already been proactive and made changes during the interdependence stage. But it is not too late if you haven’t prepared.
Later-stage home improvements could include updates like:
- Grab bars
- Shower chairs
- Walk-in showers
- and so on.
You can hire external support to facilitate aging in place, such as:
- Emergency medical alert and health monitoring systems
- Medication management
- Companion care
- Nutrition and meal planning
The Final Stage of Aging: Crisis Management
By the time the vast majority of people reach these last two stages, they need more or less round-the-clock care. That may call for quick access to robust health care facilities.
Because of these needs, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or even hospice care tend to take precedence over home care.
Similar to the dependency stage, many seniors reach these last two starting in their late 70s. However, going back to the nonlinear nature of this process, some may find themselves here earlier.
Others might not enter until much later in their lifespan. We need to see how our parents are doing honestly and respond accordingly.
As the children of aging parents, you might react to this stage with fear or sadness. That’s totally normal. Even with these emotions, you can handle the last stages with grace.
This is the time to be there for your aging parents. It’s part of a life well-lived.
Does it seem crass to talk about cost when thus far we’ve emphasized achieving the best possible quality of life for your elders as they progress through the stages of aging?
Only if you assume a long-term care facility will provide superior care. And only if we count “cost” in a purely monetary way. We’ll get into that more in a bit.
But first let’s talk about real numbers. So you know what you’re dealing with.
You might think that paying for home improvements sounds prohibitively expensive. But if you compare it to the price of a long-term care facility, it costs way less.
How Much Less Is Aging in Place vs. Long-Term Care?
Nationally, the average price to modify a home for aging in place is about $15,000. In contrast, the annual cost of a typical assisted living facility is $50,000.
Plus, aging in place modifications constitute a real estate investment. That’s right. They can significantly increase the resale value of a home.
Additionally, certain organizations, services, and tax breaks can help to reduce the price if you qualify.
Then you should consider unquantifiable costs. The help seniors receive in long-term care facilities doesn’t necessarily ensure the best quality of life.
For instance, if your family member is forced to move to an assisted living or nursing facility, it means leaving behind everything they know.
They’ll lose privacy and independence.
They may even have to share their space with a roommate — probably for the first time in decades.
And they’ll almost certainly find their life regimented by the facility’s rules: set times for meals, showers, and even hobbies.
There are social consequences as well.
Studies show seniors who keep strong social connections slow their cognitive decline by 70 percent compared to those who feel alone and isolated. Maintaining cognitive abilities can bolster both quality and length of life.
You might think this is an argument for long-term care facilities. After all, communal living is built in there.
But often when older people move away from neighborhoods and friends, they end up feeling more alone.
Likewise, environmental factors play a part. Staying in familiar surroundings can trigger memories. This also enables seniors to remain connected cognitively, increasing life expectancy.
Additionally, putting large groups of seniors together in a semi-clinical environment can have safety drawbacks — particularly where viral outbreaks are concerned. If one person catches something, it can quickly become 10 — or 50. For serious illnesses, this is a big deal.
Respond to Later Life Stages as They Come
The truth you may have realized by now: there is no “normal aging.”
Or at least not a rigid set of events that always happens. The dynamics of the aging process work differently for each person.
Almost everyone will go through age-related changes and need more help through the years. But what that looks like in any given situation varies.
We’ve covered why you’ll want to enable your aging parents to live in place instead of assisted living facilities. Staying at home can form a better option for many people well into their later life stages.
We totally understand that this might feel challenging for you to bring up. As a rule, people don’t like change. And most parents don’t ever get used to their kids being in charge.
However, if you approach the topic with a blend of tact, sensitivity, and situational logic, you can help them appreciate the quality of life improvements that accompany home redesign.
We already mold homes to suit our lifestyle at other ages. Why not adapt residences with aging?
Why not make a hospitable place to continue those normal activities that help your aging mom, dad, aunt, uncle, or any loved one feel self-reliant and secure?
The bottom line? For many seniors, aging in place is just a better alternative. And it usually offers both the elder and their adult children greater peace of mind.
Plus, you may be surprised by how attainable it is. No matter where in the normal aging process your loved one is, you can likely upgrade their space — or yours. And you can never start the process too early.