by Chris Reeder Young (she/her) | photos from Shutterstock
At least 7 million aging seniors are LGBTQ+ and almost half of same-sex couples already report experiencing housing discrimination. Most LGBTQ+ older adults want to age in their home and probably should based on the level of discrimination in residential senior housing.
How can older adults repair and adapt their beloved home environments in innovative ways to remain independent for as long as possible?
If we’re lucky, we are able to age healthily into our golden years. If we’re extra lucky, we get to age in the home of our choosing. If we’re extra, super lucky, we get to age in our communities alongside the people we know and love.
Most older adults do not want to go into assisted living, nursing homes, or move in with family members as they age. In order for this to be the trajectory, experts in the fields of aging and gerontology advocate for keeping seniors as independent as possible by adapting their homes to support senior physical and mental wellbeing.
Those stairs…do they have a handrail? That shower…does it have a grab bar? Those hard-to-turn faucet knobs… would a lever handle help? How does a two-story home look to a 35 year old versus a 75 year old? How could slight home modifications make a marked improvement for older adult wellbeing? What does the senior envision for their home as they age?
These may not be the most fun questions to face; but, social scientists and medical leaders guarantee that they are the most important questions to explore so that older adults can make proactive, thoughtful decisions about their futures.
Aging-In-Place: What is it, and what does it mean for LGBTQ+ seniors?
The term “aging in place” may seem a bit clinical, but it’s a very personal and significant aspect of life. Aging-In-Place refers to older adults’ decisions to age in their individual home, rather than go into residential care like an assisted living facility, nursing home, or moving in with other family. Aging-In-Place also refers to the community, resources, and proximal amenities where older adults have support, relationships, and are able to access their basic needs to thrive and sustain their wellbeing.
By 2035, America will see 78 million older adults 65+ years surpass all other age groups. Federal housing policy really isn’t prepared for equitably and ethically assisting seniors age-in-place (unless you live in Age-Friendly states). The next few decades will look very different than it ever has before, and our nation will face housing challenges for seniors that can have massive implications for policy, individual senior health, and how health insurance and hospital systems can support senior citizens and communities.
These implications can also have inequitable affordability and health impacts on LGBTQ+ elders. Housing advocates should think about how LGBTQ+ older adults and couples are considered, included, and supported in housing policy, insurance, and community development. At least 7 million aging seniors are LGBTQ+ and almost half of same-sex couples already report experiencing housing discrimination. Most LGBTQ+ older adults want to age in their home and probably should based on the level of discrimination in residential senior housing. There are two major challenges that LGBTQ+ citizens face. The first challenge is that significant modifications and repairs are necessary for to continue aging in their home. Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ elders face an additional form of discrimination with contractors who are refusing to do their repairs and modifications due to bigotry. The second challenge is that LGBTQ+ seniors also experience significant bigotry when they are seeking housing through assisted living or nursing home support, more commonly known as long-term care discrimination.
What does Aging-in-Place look like?
Aging-in-Place includes home adaptations that span from major critical repairs to minor accessibility modifications and in-home health and social service support. An aging adult with limited income may end up with deferred maintenance challenges like roof leaks, inoperable air systems, and plumbing issues that can negatively impact respiratory health and increase utilities. Expensive energy costs resulting from inoperable air systems, faulty windows, or structural blight, can force fixed-income seniors to choose to pay the utility bill, to buy food, to buy medication, or to pay homeowner’s insurance (but never afford all four simultaneously).
A repaired roof can reduce utility costs that helps senior food security, improve air quality, reduce mold and mildew growth caused by rain leaks, and prevent further deterioration of the home which yield more costly repairs. Major repairs made to inoperable electrical systems and air systems can improve respiratory health and reduce the occurrence of gas leaks and fires. Repairs made to flooring and carpet removal can reduce costly falls and frequent Emergency Department visits. A tertiary benefit of these repairs includes improved socialization where seniors’ homes are healthier and more visitable for grandkids and friends.
Minor home modifications like an ADA compliant toilet, grab bars in the showers, handrails next to internal and external stairs can prevent falls that may send a senior to the emergency department frequently or to a nursing home prematurely. Easy-to- turn levers versus door knobs can help an arthritic senior with locking their doors easier so they can secure themselves at night. Repaired lighting or added lighting can help a senior see better and this prevents falls, helps them prepare meals, and allows them to see to participate in hobbies and extracurricular activities. Interventions like these can help a senior with maintaining hygiene, toileting, food preparation, and feeling more secure in their home as they age.
The investment of repairs and modifications can be costly, but they are less costly than residential living and nursing homes. Assisted and residential group living can cost up to $52,692 per year in Tennessee, out-of-pocket. If a fall or dilapidated home sends a senior to a nursing home pre-maturely, it can cost Medicare/Medicaid up to $92,163 per year for a private room in Tennessee. Aging-In-Place and medical home interventions prevent these costs by allowing seniors to remain happily and healthily in their home where they want
The home is where older adults may have the most influence and can continue to enjoy their golden years, socialize with their grandchildren and adult children, celebrate holidays, and remain safe and healthy as their bodies wane and wax in new ways. Aging-in-Place can impact the wellbeing of a senior, how they age in their home, and the blight impacts on a community. Regardless of how LGBTQ+ individuals are choosing to age, they deserve humane rights and dignity as they seek to modify their home with LGBTQ+ elder-affirming contractors, or access long-term care through assisted living, and/or nursing home. This elder-focused advocacy platform presents a new way for the younger activists to support the elders who paved many of our LGBTQ+ human rights.
To learn more about Aging-In-Place, please visit here: https://aginginplace. com/universal-design/
To learn more about LGBTQ+ housing rights for seniors, please visit here: https://www.sageusa.org/resource-category/housing/