How to help seniors age in place

'Aging in place' means having the health and social supports and services people need to live safely and independently in their own homes or community for as long as they are able and wish to.

With more than 6.5 million Canadians over the age of 65 and more than 10,000 having celebrated their 100th birthday in 2019, it's necessary to work together to develop supports and resources to allow Canadians to age safely in a comfortable environment of their choice.

Shanthi Johnson, professor and dean in the School of Public Health, studies aging in place, health promotion and injury prevention in older adults.

"Success in improving the aging experience for seniors is a shared responsibility," she says. "Many partners have a stake in creating a positive aging experience and using a collaborative approach will help support aging needs."

She explains that there are physical, mental, emotional and economic benefits to helping seniors live at home for as long as possible. "The saying 'use or lose it' applies to older adults," she explains. "Seniors living on their own are often more physically and mentally active, which contributes to keeping them alert and mobile."

Johnson also points out that engaged people are happy people. "Older adults generally don't want to go into long-term care. Living on their own, or with family, provides more opportunities to remain connected to others and their community and to contribute to family life. This also provides a sense of personal satisfaction."

Not only does aging in place have health and emotional benefits over institutional care. Johnson explains that, "evidence suggests that programs that support aging in place result in savings for families, government and health systems." She does, however, note that more extensive research is needed to better assess these costs and benefits.

Realizing the benefits of aging in place requires preparation and planning. Johnson says this needs to happen at three different levels.

Individual

"Self care is fundamental to aging in place," advises Johnson. "This includes physical health, hygiene, diet and managing medications." Johnson says she encourages her own mother to walk regularly to stay fit and mobile, increasing her ability to care for herself.

Assessing the safety and accessibility of your home to make improvements for the long term is also important. This could include adding safety bars in tubs and removing potential barriers to mobility aids such as walkers that may be needed in the future.

Family

Family support is important to help aging adults avoid social isolation. "In some instances, there may be language and cultural barriers which make it harder for seniors to make connections in their community. Also, as we age, our peer groups and social networks become smaller," says Johnson. "Seniors need the support of family members to maintain social connections."

Johnson also says it is important for families to have honest conversations with their older loved ones about their living situation. This ensures everyone is on the same page about transitioning to supportive living when it becomes necessary.

Health system

With an aging population, it will be necessary to evaluate the resources offered to those aging in place. Home Care in Alberta provides support with daily activities that are necessary to maintain independence, such as medication management and personal hygiene. Johnson says, ideally, home care would offer more.

"It is important that we strengthen our home-care systems to deliver interventions and not just treatments to older adults," says Johnson.

She points to Saskatchewan, which has added an exercise program to its home-care delivery. The program has had a positive effect on not only improving and maintaining seniors' strength and mobility, but also in creating social opportunities that support good mental health.


The Injury Prevention Centre in the School of Public Health is dedicated to helping Albertans make safe choices. They offer resources specific to older adults through their Finding Balance program.

 

Additional resources:

Statistics Canada

Injury Prevention Centre | Finding Balance

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority | Home Safety Checklist

Alberta Health Services | Home Care