Aging in Place: Tips for Keeping Elderly Loved Ones Safe at Home

90% of seniors 65 and older say they would prefer to stay in their own homes as long as possible                             (Source: 2012 AARP survey)

Taking care of aging parents or loved ones is one of the largest responsibilities we will ever take on.  A question many of us have already had to answer or will face in the coming years is “Is it financially and physically possible to keep Mom and Dad safe in their own house as they get older?” Today we’ll discuss what you should know about helping your loved one age in place.


Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Facilities, or Living at Home: What’s More Expensive?
Believe it or not, it costs less to have a home retrofitted with safety features and to have in-home care than to live at a nursing home or assisted living facility. Genworth Financial has found that a private room in a nursing home costs $92,000 a year and a semi-private room runs around $82,000 annually. In-home basic care runs (on average) anywhere between $19,000-25,000. In 2014, Genworth Financial also found that a one-bedroom “apartment” in an assisted living facility costs about $42,000 per year.


Does Insurance Cover Elder Care?
Most people faced with figuring out a living situation for an elderly loved one wonder how they will pay for the care their loved one needs. Most seniors rely on Medicare and/or Medicaid to pay for health care coverage. But many do not realize the limitations of these programs in relation to paying for nursing home, assisted living, or in-home care.

  • Nursing Home Care Coverage: In general, Medicare will not pay for a long-term stay in a nursing home. If temporary nursing home care is required (say after a surgery for a broken hip or other injury or health issue), Medicare will pay based on a sliding financial scale for coverage that spans just 100 days. Medicare’s own website reveals that many seniors begin paying for nursing home care out of pocket and after their finances and assets have been wiped out, they turn to Medicaid to cover nursing home care. That is because Medicaid will pay for nursing home care indefinitely, but only if it is deemed medically necessary.
  • Assisted Living Coverage: Medicare does not cover the cost of an assisted living facility. Occasionally Medicaid will help pay for assisted living under a program called Medicaid Home & Community-Based Waiver Services (or HCBS). To qualify for an HCBS waiver for assisted living, the person must qualify for Medicaid and require nursing home care that they would prefer take place at an assisted-living facility instead.
  • In-Home Care Coverage: Medicare will only cover in-home services if skilled nursing care is needed. Routine tasks such as getting dressed, bathing, giving meds, and making meals is not covered. Medicaid also won’t cover routine in-home care if it’s not medically required, but HSBC waivers (as mentioned above) are available that are given out based on a person’s Medicaid eligibility and need for services (usually only if without this care they would have to move to a nursing home).

Safety-Proofing Your Elderly Loved One’s Home
Financially we know that in-home care is actually the most cost-effective living situation for our elderly loved ones. We also know that if your loved one is like the majority of seniors, living at home is also their preference. Let’s look at ways you can help make their home safer.

In general, safety experts advise analyzing the entrances to an elderly loved ones home first and then going room by room to check for and amend any potentially hazardous situations, particularly those that can cause falls.

  1. Entryway: Are there stairs? Are they in need of repair? Do they have a railing? Do they become slippery in wet weather conditions? Is a ramp needed?
  2. Furniture and Decor: Rugs can be a major fall hazard, so consider removing any rug that is not needed. Secure any loose electric cords (tvs, lamps, computers). Clear any unnecessary or potentially hazardous furniture and items left lying around.
  3. Kitchen: Stoves and ovens can be extremely dangerous. They can be left on or a loved one could fall and burn themselves. Consider using just toaster ovens or microwaves. Also, ensure dishes, silverware, and pantry items are within arm’s reach and do not require bending over or a stool to obtain them.
  4. Bathroom: Walk-in tubs and showers are obviously best but can be costly. At the very least, add non-slip bath mats into the tub and shower, install non-slip flooring or grip rugs, and install safety bars next to the shower and toilet. Nightlights should be used for after dark visits to the bathroom.
  5. Throughout the home: Ensure smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers are on each floor. Set the water heater to a temperature that will prevent scalding water burns. Make sure door handles are easy to use (consider levers vs. knobs).

It is possible to keep your loved one happy and healthy in their own home as they age. Please, don’t wait until something goes wrong to make changes to their living space. Not only will be they be more comfortable, but you can also rest a bit easier knowing they are safe at home.

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