Aging at Home: an Anthropologist's Perspective

Jared Diamond’s TED talk titled “How Societies Can Age Better” is a worthy listen. The takeaway is that we -- as in the human race, not just the western world -- haven't ever figured out the best way to handle our aging population. Yet, as Diamond points out, we are rapidly approaching a population explosion of those over the age of 65 in this country and beyond thanks to modern medicine and healthcare. So how do we ensure we’re not leaving them behind?

In some countries that remain hunter-gatherers, elderly citizens are simply left behind when they move on to the next camp, once they’re unable to contribute food or work to the tribe. They are left to fend for themselves until they perish.

It seems cruel. It’s difficult for most of us to understand. Yet, Diamond explains that the majority of the elderly citizens in the U.S. live out the end of their lives separately from their loved ones, too; they are left in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. And if we don’t even consider how we feel about leaving behind our families, we can simply look at the cost of those facilities -- around 5 times greater than in-home care, according to a 2007 National Institute of Health study. The NIH found that the cost of of long-term care while living in your own home averaged $928 a month, compared with $5,234 a month in an assisted living facility or nursing home. And costs continue to rise -- almost 4% in 2012, and climbing.

The bottom line here is that planning ahead for aging is critical. If you wait, you’re going to lose the opportunity to choose to age at home at all. If you wait, your family members will scramble to try to come up with the best, most expedient solution because they’ll have to. Aging at home is a smart choice because whether you choose to make renovations to your current home or build new, you’ll be holding on to your freedom of choice for as long as possible.