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Home is where you are – but can you stay?
Seniors want to stay where they are – especially women. In November, AARP reported results of its survey of older adults (sigh: now 45+) about where they want to live. Similar to other AARP studies, 88% of the 65+ population is in agreement that they want to stay in their current residence for as long as possible, pushed up to 89% for women overall, and up further to 90% for the 50+ population with incomes between $25K and $50K per year. Maybe we interpret that as happy with one's current comfort level or maybe that represents responders' inability to afford a move that would provide the same degree of comfort or community.
The community’s characteristics are enablers – but transportation isn’t. In terms of importance, the majority of older adults (65+) rank being near friends and family, near where they want to go, proximity to church/social organizations and ease of walking as important. Ironically, small percentages (< 25%) cared about being near transit, whether that is because they drive everywhere and want to keep doing so (although 20% of women aged 65+ do not drive). Perhaps there are only limited options for transit where they live, except for the poorest of the responders, where transit mattered to 29% of them.
For most, their homes present future and unanticipated barriers. Proving the point again and again that older adults will not plan ahead, the majority of responders (60%) or more, reported that their homes required entrance steps and that they were fitted only with standard doorway widths. The result is that as women age past 70 into their 80's, often outliving men, they may have a tough time getting into their useful features -- the full bath on the main level (reported by 87% overall) and the first-floor bedroom (85% overall). Wish they had a chance to read MetLife's Aging in Place 2.0.
Modifying the home matters, but so does bringing the community inside. Overall life expectancy for women (age 80) exceeds men’s by 5 years. Perhaps older women will be like this 91+ year old Canadian marathoner, but maybe not. Even if the home is modified, will church/community, friends, and family still be as accessible? Will the older ranges of the 65+ population, especially women, have access to social networks that link them to the physical community even when they can’t get around as much? Who is educating and boosting interest in transit (including shared car rides) to get from their town house to the town? And I wonder, how many local churches (et al.) provide online social networking (worshiping in place?) sites that are actively promoted to members as their mobility declines?
The AARP study raises more questions than it answers. Perhaps builders and remodelers will be excited by the AARP ‘home is where the heart is’ affirmation. I am not so sure about the future of the older responders represented in this report. I wish AARP had looked at the 42% of responders who reported being separated, widowed, divorced, single or never married, and then reported what percent of those were 65+, owned their own home, and/or were lower income – then look at what percent want to stay in their home because they can’t afford to move.