How long can an older person live independently?

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Research from Macquarie University validates the link between in-home care and extending a person’s ability to remain in their home for longer. For every hour of additional service received each week, there is a 6% lower risk of going into permanent residential care.

While it seems obvious that the provision of in-home care will enable people to live at home for longer, there has been little research to prove this outcome and, perhaps more importantly, what type of help will have the greatest impact.

In a recent study, researchers from Australia’s Macquarie University Centre examined the association between in-home care services and entry into a permanent residential aged care facility.

What does the research show?

The results, published in The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine (JAMDA), found that:

  • Every hour of home care service received per week correlated with a 6% lower risk of entry into residential care.
  • The more hours of care services a person received, the lower the risk of residential care entry.
  • Those receiving more than 3.5 hours of care a week remained in their own home twice as long as those receiving less than 3.0 hours per week.

Importantly, the study also found that people who used a higher level of social support services (e.g. one-on-one companionship visits at home, assistance to attend community-based social events) in combination with domestic assistance and transport services stayed in their homes for longer.

Maintaining independence in old age

There’s no denying that most people would rather grow older living as independently as possible in their own home. It’s where they can stay connected to their friends and family, and maintain a sense of control over their living situation.

“Older people almost universally say that they want to stay in their own homes, where it’s comfortable and familiar,” says Yvonne Wells, La Trobe University Professor of Aged Care Research. “Even quite small amounts of assistance can help people delay their entry to residential care.”

Signs it may be time to get some help in the home

The signs of needing help won’t necessarily be glaringly obvious, which is why people may not even realise it for themselves. If you have an older friend or family member living on their own, here are a few things you can keep an eye out for:

  • Is the home looking dusty, dirty and cobwebby?
  • Is the garden not looking as well kept as it used to be?
  • Is there food in the fridge that is well past its expiry date?
  • Are they struggling to hear you, even in a fairly quiet place?
  • Have they missed a regular appointment recently, but can’t remember why?

Starting a conversation about in-home care

Recognising that a form of home care may be required is a stressful moment. If you’re feeling anxious about starting a conversation with someone you love about the need for in-home care, here are some questions you can ask them:

  • When you think about the next few years of your life, do you picture yourself living at home?
  • Have you looked at the different options and services for home care, and is there one that you think really suits you?
  • It seems like there are some things around the house that are getting a bit hard to juggle. Would you feel better if you had a regular helper?

Home care services

Whether through government-funded or private in-home care services, below are examples of some of the services and support people regularly use.

  • Personal care for showering and getting dressed
  • Transportation for appointments and shopping
  • Grocery shopping and meal preparation
  • Garden and outdoor maintenance
  • Home handyman services for house maintenance
  • Nursing services for on-going or temporary health-related needs

What to remember: The Macquarie University research shows that some of the simplest forms of home care can ensure people live long, happy and healthy lives in their homes and communities. It’s best to start planning, discussing and researching options for care sooner rather than later.