Several years ago, after her husband died and she retired, Judy Pittman made a big decision: She moved from the single-family home in Columbia where she’d raised her children to a 55-plus condo in Ellicott City.
It was Pittman’s way of “aging in place,” an increasingly common and popular concept for older people.
“Aging in place means something different today than it did even 10 years ago,” Pittman said. “Ten years ago it meant staying in your home, and it still does for some people. But I think it goes beyond the four walls you live in.”
To Pittman, aging in place means keeping your community, your friends, your services, your doctors – and your family. Pittman’s two children live in Howard County, and so do her five grandchildren, ages 17 to 27.
“These things are very important — not just to me but to anyone in my age group,” Pittman said.
Jenna L. Crawly, administrator of Howard County’s Office on Aging and Independence, said the county is well aware of the growing trend.
“Aging in place is significant due to the growth of the older adult population and the desire to age in community,” she said. The number of county residents 60 and older, she said, is expected to soar from 72,000 this year to more than 105,000 by 2045, a 47% increase.
Beyond staying in current home
Faced with such statistics, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball just last month launched the Age-Friendly Howard County initiative, joining a global commitment to make communities more “age-friendly” to older residents.
Crawly said the county will survey residents next month on what needs to be done to reach that goal.
Howard County is far from alone in this. Neighboring Baltimore and Montgomery counties also have joined the Age-Friendly bandwagon, and virtually every county in the state is taking steps to accommodate and facilitate what is a rapidly growing trend.
The state and statewide organizations have joined the movement as well.
AARP Maryland is using the clout of its national organization to help those who want to age in place – in part by organizing and sponsoring the Age-Friendly program.
AARP also has assembled the “HomeFit Guide,” a free, online tool that shows homeowners how to make their home safe and suitable for aging residents. The guide includes such tips as installing light switches that glow in the dark and replacing round doorknobs with easier-to-use lever-style handles, and a manual on how to hire a contractor.
A 2018 AARP survey nationwide found that 77% of people over 50 want to stay in their community as they age, and 76% want to stay in their home.
“A lot of people now want to live in a community that’s safe and comfortable and familiar, and they prefer to stay in their home if that’s possible,” said AARP Maryland President Jim Campbell. “We try to look for ways to make that happen.”
Financially better to age in place
The state of Maryland, meanwhile, has two reasons for helping aging residents stay in their homes, according to Rona Kramer, secretary of the Maryland Department of Aging.
The first, she noted, is that’s where most people want to be. “Nobody gets up in the morning and says, ‘I can’t wait to get into a nursing home,’ ” Kramer said.
The second reason is more practical. The cost of caring for someone in a nursing home is nearly $100,000 a year, Kramer said, and the state, through Medicaid, is responsible for half of that cost.
Adults 62 and older make up 22% of the population in Maryland, Kramer said, and that’s expected to rise to 26% in the next decade.
“You can imagine what that will do to the economy if we’re not keeping people in their homes,” she said.
With that in mind, Maryland officials have decided spending some money to help people stay out of nursing homes is a wise investment. And among a variety of tools and programs the state has launched to help in that effort are three that Kramer said are new and unique to Maryland.
- Maryland Community for Life provides a range of services designed to help seniors avoid the sort of problems — costly, debilitating falls, fraud that can cost them precious money, the difficulty of maintaining their home – that can land a person in a nursing home. The services include help with basic home maintenance, such as leaky faucets, a list of vetted contract providers for bigger problems, and more.
- Senior Call Check is a free service for people 65 and older in which participants are called daily to make sure they are safe and well. If they don’t answer their telephone, a neighbor or family member chosen by the participant is called and encouraged to check on the person. If that contact cannot be reached, a local law enforcement agency is contacted.
- A durable medical equipment program, expected to open in a warehouse in Prince George’s County this summer, which will offer free, used medical equipment to seniors. The warehouse will stock items such as wheelchairs, transfer benches for showers, lifts and hospital beds, and is expected to turn over some 9,000 pieces of equipment per year, Kramer said, all of it gathered through donations.
Even organizations that operate nursing homes are joining the movement to help people avoid them.
Keswick, which has provided long-term nursing care in Baltimore for more than 130 years, recently expanded its offerings to include services designed to keep people in their homes.
“Over the last five years, we’ve made a commitment to offering programs, services and support to older adults living in the community in their own homes or in congregate housing,” said Carmel Roques, Keswick’s president and chief executive officer.
Several years ago, Keswick opened its Wise and Well Center for Healthy Living, described on its website as “a place for older people to pursue their health and well-being goals.”
Unlike typical day centers for seniors, the center is for relatively active and independent men and women and offers an array of classes, physical activities, social groups and creative outlets for members.
Keswick also works with the Maryland Department of Aging on its Community for Life program.
“Some people require inpatient services, which we offer,” Roques said. “But many, many others have a different set of focuses. They want to live at home, in the community. They want to live with their friends and neighbors, stay connected, stay well and stay involved. And we want to be comprehensive in what we offer.”