The norm was that when people reached their twilight years, they were placed in nursing homes for a long time. Medicaid covers the cost of nursing home care. However, many people now challenge this norm, and the trend away is steadily increasing. The safety of nursing homes is being questioned because as of June 30, 2021, 31 percent of COVID-19 fatalities in the United States occurred in such facilities. The number of deaths peaked in January at 22,902. That figure has since declined to a low of 336 on June 21 but rose again with 1,759 deaths on August 21 and more than 2,000 in September.
These numbers are not even complete. A study published on September 9, 2021, at JAMA Network found that an estimated 16,000 COVID-19 deaths in 15,307 nursing homes across the country that occurred in the early part of the pandemic were unreported. This is because federal guidelines only required facilities to report the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the week of May 24.
What Americans Want as They Age
AgingIn Place reports that 90 percent of seniors prefer to stay in their homes in the coming 5 to 10 years because they like their residence and want to stay close to their family and friends. According to another study conducted in March 2021, 76 percent of Americans aged 18 and older want to stay home, and 11 percent want to stay at a family member’s home as they age. They also expressed extreme reservations about putting a loved one in a nursing home.
The most significant concern the respondents expressed was over losing independence. This was followed by not being able to afford care. Being alone and away from family and friends tied with being a burden on the family, showing conflicting feelings.
A majority or 52 percent held that health insurance companies should fund long-term at-home care, 51 percent believe that the government should do this through Medicare, and 41 percent stated that Medicaid should cover this. To fund Medicare, 62 percent favored increasing taxes for the wealthy, 43 percent favored increasing Medicare payments by employers and employees alike, 40 percent favored cutting Medicare payments for prescription drugs to pharmaceutical companies, and 36 percent favored cutting Medicare payments to insurance companies.
Aging in the Community
To deliver on what most Americans want, communities must help the government and step up to meet the needs of elderly members aging at home. Since people aged 65 and older now number 54 million and constitute 16.5 percent of the population, there are many elderly members in each community. Many of them are seniors living alone or with only their partner as company. According to research, 27 percent of adults aged 60 and older in the United States live alone, while 46 percent live with a partner.
People in communities can work together to ensure the feasibility of seniors aging comfortably in their homes, surrounded by support for their well-being and quality of life. However, the elderly still need to maintain their social connections to feel some belongingness to the community. It would be best to have a community center that is age-friendly and appropriate for older individuals. It must be accessible to walking assistance equipment and wheelchairs and must have non-skid epoxy floor coating systems applied on high-traffic areas. Toilets must be wide enough for walkers and wheelchairs and must be equipped with safety grab bars. Toilet seats must be higher than usual, built especially for the elderly.
A More Inclusive Community, a Broader Network
Community centers can also design activities centered on the elderly. Elderly daycare can be provided for seniors who are not bedridden. There must also be activities that integrate them with community members of all ages. Around the world, many countries have found it beneficial to have inter-generational engagement as each generation enriches the lives of the others. Interaction with children is constructive for seniors who do not have grandchildren.
It will also be easier to find caregivers for bedridden seniors if a community taps a broader network. To finance this and other senior needs, communities can help each family or solo elder access available financial aid for the elderly. Many either do not know about such benefits or encounter difficulties with the application process. Community support can help overcome these barriers.
For instance, a federal program called Money Follows the Person (MFP) provides funds to enable the elderly to move from nursing homes to community living. The home and community-based services (HCBS) of Medicaid funds home care, including meal deliveries and other human services.
A mutually supportive community is the natural order of living in olden times. Unfortunately, modern life has increasingly built walls between people and then between family members. It is time to break down these walls and return to our naturally compassionate selves.