“House or Health” – Chicken or Egg?

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Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg?  It’s an age-old concept of theoretical discussion of what is the CAUSE, and what is the EFFECT.  At some level maybe it’s intended to be rhetorical.  There is a lot of rhetoric surrounding the Baby Boomers, and this “Silver Tsunami” that is coming ashore in the U.S. and around the world.  There are lots of cross-industry discussions about how to tackle this challenge, and all the good ones are aware of the need for collaboration between a multitude of industries to reach a viable solution.

This blog was inspired by an excellent publication, titled “Aging In Place – A Toolkit for Local Governments” by M. Scott Ball in association with the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) and the Community Housing Resource Center.  Atlanta is on the cutting edge of planning as a city and jurisdiction for the future of “Aging In Place”, and we should all be paying attention.

 We’ve created a society that has separated health and housing.  Completely different sectors of our professions are addressing each of these topics, in isolation from the other.  That’s not going to work anymore, and it’s no longer a healthy approach to finding a solution for the future in our country.  Now it’s time to look at how health care and housing are related, and how they can and should be integrated.  Housing options and health care, along with its support services, need to find a congruent and congenial relationship with each other if “Aging In Place” is to be a successful endeavor.

So if they’re no longer “separate”, how are they related?  Well as of today, they’re not.  Not successfully anyway.  Currently there’s an inadequacy in their relationship (housing and healthcare), and they need to be mended, and fused together.  How can you tell a health concern from a housing concern?  Both our populations and our existing housing stock are aging, and with that each are in need of attention.  There you find yourself asking the “Chicken and Egg” question.  Is the housing concern CAUSING health issues, or are HEALTH issues of an aging population CAUSING our housing deterioration conundrum?  Health concerns can initiate or exacerbate and compound the problems of an aging inventory of housing.  Likewise, and aging home stock and the associated housing concerns can create or accelerate health problems for our aging individuals.

We’ve touched on the idea in other blogs of the “Use it or Lose It” mentality.  When a living choice of an individual is healthy and appropriate for the individual’s level of health and is financially viable for them, being a home owner can provide activities and necessities that are good for you, and can help you maintain your health and thereby increase your ability to maintain your independence and increase your own outlook for longevity in your own home.  Statistics in this regard are promising, in that 80% of the U.S. population over 50 years old owns a home, and 90% of them want to stay there as their long term living situation choice.

On the other hand, as a homeowner ages, the ability to maintain the home in an appropriate
fashion is bound to deteriorate as well, at some basic and logistical levels.  Getting on a ladder, cleaning roofs, changing light bulbs on a stool or chair, working under a sink cabinet, etc. are all going to become less of an option in the latter years of our life – beyond 50, 65, etc.  This is just a reality of frailty and the fear associated with a diminishing feeling of strength and balance.  So at the same time that a home’s natural age is “getting up in years” and its maintenance needs will be on the rise, so will the occupants’ age and “maintenance” (medical) needs be on the upswing.

On a fixed income, which will come first – medications or home repairs?  Likely medications (personal care), and the home will be neglected by order of priority.

Now the issue gets circular in nature.  Doctors bills and medicine are purchased, but not the new furnace or roof repair.  Subsequently we will see housing go into a state of dis-repair.  The result?  The HOUSE can be the cause of HEALTH problems!  Air quality, appropriate interior temperatures, moisture intrusion, mold issues, the list goes on and can grow quickly.  This is a worst case scenario for exactly the goal of staying in your own home.  Your happiness, your health, and inevitably your independence can be compromised in the end.

Back to the other side once more, shall we?  Now we have someone who’s health deterioration is being accelerated.  What came come of that?  Depression, disorientation, asthma, respiration issues, and again the list goes on.  Now what if that person forgets to turn off the stovetop, and causes a house fire?  What if their depleting health causes their hygiene to slide, or their depression over their living situation causes them to stop cleaning up after themselves as well, and they end up tripping and falling over something they’ve left out on the floor?  There are too many scenarios to consider and list here.

But the point?  We CANNOT SEPARATE the two issues any longer, as we look toward the decades ahead related to our HOUSING HEALTH and the HEALTH of our AGING POPULATION.  They are related.  They are intertwined.  There are not exclusive of each other.  They MUST be considered together, and in conjunction with each other, if we are to be successful at helping to resolve either one.

 



 

For a good starting point to look at your home, consider the AARP’s “Home Fit Guide” linked herein.  Or get in touch with a CAPS certified Architect or Occupational Therapist to help you find a team that can assess you (or your parent) and their home environment.

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