By Kathryn McCormack
Let’s talk numbers.
Between 2006 and 2030, the number of people 65 and older in the United States is expected to nearly double, from 37 million to 71.5 million. By 2050, 20% of the population will be 65+, for a total of 88.5 million seniors. This growth is largely due to the baby boomer generation and their children’s generation as they become the second wave.
Of the adult population 65+, a whopping 87% would prefer to stay in their home as they age. This has become an important concept today — not only for the existing adult population, but for future generations, as well.
To understand the growing needs of this group and plan for future needs, it is important to identify the challenges individuals might face while aging in place, as well as create solutions to these challenges at the community level.
Understanding ‘aging in place’
Aging in place is when an individual lives and ages in their residence and community of choice for as long as they are able to, with access to the services they require and activities they are used to in their daily lives. Through aging in place, the desire is to live your life to the fullest while maintaining the ability to tend independently and safely to your own health, social and emotional needs.
Challenges to aging in place
There are the obvious challenges to aging in place, and those that are not as obvious. We all know getting older means physical changes, but there are emotional and spiritual challenges, as well.
By 2025, one in four drivers will be 65 or older. More than 50% of non-drivers over 65 do not leave their homes most days. Losing the ability to drive safely alone is a huge blow to one’s independence, and the lack of other transportation options results in feelings of isolation, loneliness and entrapment in one’s own home.
Isolation itself is a major cause for concern among this older population. As one ages, the likelihood of living alone increases, with fewer family visits due to distance and their own daily activities, and fewer social contacts due to retirement, lack of mobility, fewer social options, death of friends and family, etc.
The consequences of social isolation can be harmful and can lead to feelings of depression, negatively impacting both physical and mental health. Social isolation has also been linked to higher rates of elder abuse, long-term illness, and unhealthy behavior.
What can we do, as a community, to help?
As this growing population continues to choose aging in place, these challenges will not only be felt by the seniors themselves, but by the very fabric of our society. We must find a way to promote safe environments in which older adults can age, as well as help maintain a sense of community and belonging within this segment. Humans are a social species, so we are conditioned to crave that social interaction and to feel we are a part of something greater than ourselves.
There are many ways we as a spiritual community can rally and come together to promote a greater sense of inclusion and purpose within this population. Some ideas include:
- Host a “Family & Friends” service at the church, inviting seniors and their loved ones to join together in worship
- Create a committee that focuses on renovations in the church to accommodate seniors and disabled persons, no matter their physical or mental ability
- Create a “Grandparents Day” where families come together and celebrate their loved ones with activities and prizes, games, etc.
- Host senior social events monthly, and provide transportation for seniors to / from these events
- Set up a funding program for senior congregation members that can assist with home modifications necessary to maintain their safety as they age in place
- Provide resources for families that include programs, funding options, groups and communities specifically for seniors to get involved
- Become active in housing and health supportive services in the community
- Provide a help hotline for seniors and family members if they feel lonely or isolated
- Provide education for family members who are taking care of loved ones, and in-home relatives in the case of multi-generational households
- Promote healthy living choices like meal kit options for seniors, exercise programs, and outdoor activities
- Create a volunteer program where members visit and socialize with seniors at their residence, outside of church
Engage your members
With more and more people choosing to stay in their homes as they age, we must look to our members and ask what individuals need to feel comfortable and safe in their homes and within their communities. We crave human connection. Older generations are especially cognizant of this need, and seek out spaces where they can fulfill this social connection while also remaining close to their chosen community.
As families continue to grow and our older populations continue to increase in size and need, we must ensure that our spaces and actions are accommodating to each and every member of the family. Creating an environment that is accepting and accommodating to all persons allows us to start that conversation early, and build awareness amongst the younger generations, who will one day have the same needs as their elders do now.
Kathryn McCormack is Vice President of Strategy at Power Access Corporation in Dallas, a manufacturer of automatic door openers for more than 45 years.