High costs and emotions are driving aging-in-place preferences

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Data from research organizations and aging advocacy groups is clear: More older Americans want to age in place in their own homes, as opposed to living in dedicated care facilities.

To get a better grasp on this preference, Chicago-based National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate station WBEZ recently featured a dedicated aging-in-place segment. WBEZ spoke with experts and community members about why more older Americans are opting to remain in their homes as they grow older.

The preference to age in place is rooted in emotion and familiarity that’s likely to be lost by moving to another environment, according to Margaret LaRaviere, deputy commissioner of senior services with the Chicago Department of Family Support Services.

“Studies have found and supported that if you ask the senior where they would like to be, they want to age within [their homes and] communities,” she said. “[They want to be among] neighbors that they’ve known for years [and in] areas that are familiar to them. When you look at aging outside the home in a senior retirement facility, it can range anywhere from $4,000 to $12,000 [per month].”

These costs only increase if, for example, a resident of a senior housing facility needs memory care support to deal with cognitive challenges, like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, LaRaviere said. This pushes dedicated care facilities out of financial reach for many American seniors and their families, she added.

Mary Mitchell, a columnist and the director of culture and community engagement for the Chicago Sun-Times, recently wrote a column about aging-in-place dynamics in the Chicago community. She described her own aging-in-place experience in a recent column as well as on the radio segment.

“I made the move because [a] three-story house was too much for me to handle,” she said. “[It was] a lot of house and a lot of stairs to climb from basement to attic, so that’s one reason I just needed to make a change. But the thing that was also on my mind when I moved out of that house was that this house is perfect for a young family.”

This made her believe that it was time to “move on,” but the journey was a very emotional one for her.

“I packed up knowing that I was putting stuff in storage, I was giving stuff away [and] I was moving into a smaller space,” she said. “And it was very important for me to really embrace this as my forever place, and I have no intention of moving from there to another place.”

But data can only go so far when taking stock of seniors’ preferences, and Mitchell explained the emotional dynamics of such a choice more deeply.

“I was sad; it was like a part of me,” she said. “This was my home for 30 years. I knew every nook and cranny and every window, [and it] was a lovely community. I knew my neighbors, I knew the people who work at the stores and all of that. It’s familiarity, and I think as I get older, I crave familiar places and familiar spaces.”

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