By Amber Lonie
Recently my parents, who are in their late 50s, started the discussion of moving from the house that my siblings and I had called home since I was six. They felt it was too big for the two of them and there was no need to keep up with all the maintenance on a house that was only used at its full capacity at Christmas.
This reality hit me hard. I have been working with a research project on seniors housing as a student assistant for over a year and understand the gap between what services are available to the aging population and what is needed to allow people to remain at home. However, up until this point I didn’t connect the research to my own family.
It is odd to think of now going ‘home’ to a house that I have never lived in – one that doesn’t hold any memories for me. I know it’s selfish to want my parents to live in a home that is inconvenient for them, which got me thinking. Eventually I will grow old and my decisions now will affect my path later.
Sentimental memories of home and resistance to moving are reflected in the recent results of a survey conducted by the Atlantic Seniors Housing Research Alliance (ASHRA) at Mount Saint Vincent University. More than 1,700 Atlantic Canadian seniors were asked about their current housing situations and future plans for housing. Not surprisingly, findings from the survey show that seniors want to age in place: both in their homes, and their current communities.
As we grow older, the thought of moving becomes less appealing. In fact, 87 per cent of Atlantic Canadian seniors surveyed have no plans to move from their current home. But as each year passes, the probability of having to move to accommodate age-related issues increases. This is because current housing models do not consider the needs of an aging population. Simple design features that could be supportive in later years such as stairs, larger hallways and bathrooms to accommodate a wheelchair or walker are features that currently do not come as standard housing qualities. Communities are also not designed in ways that support an older population. There is a strong disconnect between seniors’ desires for their future and the reality of the housing landscape in Atlantic Canada.
Support services are also an intricate part of keeping seniors at home and in their community. Without easy access to home support, meals on wheels and medical professionals seniors often rely on friends or neighbours to drive them to appointments or run errands. According to the ASHRA survey results, almost one in five seniors receive assistance with housework and almost one-quarter receive help with transportation.
Equally important is having access to family and friends who care about our day-to-day happenings, to confide in or have fun with. According to the survey results most seniors have that support and talk about its importance to maintaining quality of life. Communities that provide meaningful opportunities for its residents, such as ways to volunteer, help to maintain social relationships and better social support networks. In fact almost half of the respondents of the survey had volunteered in the past year, with 80 per cent doing some volunteer activity at least once a month.
There are many aspects to consider for those who are looking to age in place. They need to be aware of their own ability to stay in the house and maintain it and the community’s capacity to support them.
The research on seniors housing tells us there is opportunity for growth and innovation to make our communities more age-friendly – building design, community design, program and service development. Many services have a growing market to cater to, planners need to consider features of age-friendly communities, builders will see an increase in the population of seniors looking for housing that can assist them in living a full life. Business-minded professionals and entrepreneurs need to look to the future of aging.
The research on seniors housing also tells us that planning is important. Considerations about what community you see yourself in, the type and style of housing you want, the amenities you will want close by and the location of your friends and family will support you in later life.
As my parents are contemplating moving it has given me a chance to examine the aspects of aging in place. It has made me realize there is more than just the physical space and while accessible space is important, community supports are equally important to aging in place both enjoyably and comfortably.
For more information on the seniors housing research findings, please visit www.ashra.ca
Amber Lonie, a Mount Saint Vincent University student, is part of the Knowledge Transfer Working Group with the Atlantic Seniors Housing Research Alliance project in partnership with Community Links. Community Links is a provincial organization that promotes age friendly communities and quality of life for Nova Scotia seniors through community development and volunteer action. Visit their website at www.nscommunitylinks.ca or phone Sandra Murphy at 902-454-8141.