Staying put?

It’s important to consider the hidden costs of aging in place — for seniors and their families

Seniors work on gardening projects at the Village at the Falls, an independent living community in Menomonee Falls, Wis. Photo courtesy of Holiday Retirement
Seniors work on gardening projects at the Village at the Falls, an independent living community in Menomonee Falls, Wis. Photo courtesy of Holiday Retirement

While senior housing developments appear to be booming across the U.S. — along with an aging baby boomer population that’s been dubbed the Silver Tsunami — a perhaps equally powerful trend in senior housing is aging in place.

A whopping 75 percent of older adults say they plan to live in their current homes for the rest of their lives, according to the 2015 United States of Aging Survey, a project of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the National Council on Aging and UnitedHealthcare.

But “aging-in-place may not be all it’s cracked up to be,” said a March 2015 article on aging in the Washington Post.

Older adults, the article said, rather than focusing on the economics of their situations, may be “blinded by emotional factors,” such as the memories they attach to a beloved home.

They may choose to “hunker down” in expensive homes that aren’t physically easy to navigate or conveniently located to meet their daily needs such as affordable grocery shopping and health care.

There are other hidden costs to consider:

FOR SENIORS

The demands of home ownership

Owning a home can be a senior’s greatest asset or greatest liability.

“Some people may not be able to stay in their homes despite helpful friends and neighbors,” said a recent article in The Atlantic. “Their property taxes may be too high, or they may have to sell their homes in order to finance long-term care. Because of the housing crisis, their houses may not be as much of an asset as were the homes of the previous generation.”

More than 70 percent of homeowners age 50 to 64 were still paying off their mortgages in 2010, according to an article in U.S. News & World Report, which said that homeowners typically spend between 1 to 4 percent of a home’s value annually on maintenance and repairs, which tend to increase as a home ages.

Projects can include upgrading plumbing, replacing worn siding, incorporating safety features or even making a first floor walker- or wheelchair-accessible.

Costs for seniors to remodel their homes to make them safer can be substantial with “basic design and structural modifications” averaging $9,000 to $12,000 per one-story residence, according MetLife’s Report on Aging in Place 2.0.

Croquet is one of the group activities offered at the Park Plaza independent living community in Walla Walla, Wash. Photo courtesy of Holiday Retirement
Croquet is one of the group activities offered at the Park Plaza independent living community in Walla Walla, Wash. Photo courtesy of Holiday Retirement

Social connections

As seniors lose their ability to drive, socializing can become more difficult. In these cases, staying at home can take a toll on a senior’s social life, leaving some to feel isolated and experience depression.

A study from The American Journal of Public Health suggests that seniors can preserve their brain health by maintaining strong ties to friends, family and other community groups.

About one third of older adults lack public transportation in their communities, and many that do experience inadequate service that is viewed as “unsafe, unresponsive and inconvenient,” according to a 2011 study in The Gerontologist.

Nutritional concerns

Seniors’ food spending is actually lower than those of other adults. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, seniors spend $103 a week on food, on average, compared to a weekly average of $151 for the population overall.

Though seniors appear to be thrifty with their grocery budgets, their nutritional choices can suffer if they’re living at home and are tasked with making all their own meals.

This is especially true after a senior’s spouse has passed away. When seniors don’t maintain adequate nutrition, it can affect their health and, in turn, their health-care costs.

FOR CAREGIVERS

Wage loss

According to 2011 data from the MetLife Mature Market Institute, “double jeopardy” faces the nearly 10 million baby boomers caring for their aging parents.

“These family caregivers are themselves aging as well as providing care at a time when they also need to be planning and saving for their own retirement,” said a MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers.

The proportion of adult children either caring personally for — or offering financial assistance to — aging parents more than tripled in the 15 years prior to the study. A quarter of adult children said they provide personal or financial care to their parents.

According to the study, total wage, Social Security and private pension losses due to caregiving can range from $283,716 for men to $324,044 for women, or $303,880 on average for a typical caregiver during a “career of caregiving.” When the $303,880 amount is multiplied by the 9.7 million people 50-plus caring for their parents, the amount lost is nearly $3 trillion.

Meanwhile, dedication to caregiving can affect one’s work productivity and can potentially affect future employability.

Decreased personal time

Along with the financial cost of caring for an aging parent, an adult caregiver is likely to have to invest a significant amount of personal time.

When it comes to caring for aging parents, daughters tend to shoulder the “lion’s share,” according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

“Daughters provide an average of 12.3 hours of elderly parent care per month, while sons provide an average of 5.6 hours,” said the August 2014 article, based on research from Princeton University.

Compromised health

Though it can be rewarding, caring for aging loved ones is also exhausting, physically and mentally. Over time, the demands of caring both for oneself and for one’s loved one can negatively impact one’s health.

According to a study cited by the Family Caregiver Alliance, a quarter of women who provide care for loved ones developed health problems due to those activities. Middle-aged and older women who cared for an ill or disabled spouse, according to the study, were six times likelier to suffer from depression or anxiety than those who weren’t serving as caregivers.

Higher levels of stress, declines in happiness and increased levels of hostility can also accompany caregiving.

When making decisions about aging in place, it’s important to consider all of the above factors — and a big-picture point of view that looks beyond the bottom line.


Source: This story was excerpted from 7 unexpected financial benefits of living in a senior living community, an e-book produced by Holiday Retirement, an Oregon-based company that operates independent senior living communities in the U.S., including The Lodge at White Bear in White Bear Lake. Request a copy of the e-book at holidaytouch.com/why-move. To compare costs of living in a senior living community and aging in place, go to holidaytouch.com/retirement-101/cost-of-living.