May is Older Americans Month and was created to acknowledge the contributions made by older adults—especially those who defended our country. Observed every year since 1963, it is a reminder of the resilience and strength of older adults who have lived through wars, economic recessions, societal upheavals, and more recently, the pandemic.

American life expectancy was just 63 when the first baby boomers were born in 1946. At the time when President Kennedy first declared Older Americans Month, only 17 million Americans had reached their 65th birthday. Today, the average life expectancy is almost 79 years.

No matter your age, everyone has been challenged by COVID-19, forcing all, including older adults, to think about how we live and what may be necessary to remain safely in place…from help with daily living to healthcare.

To find out whether such a dramatic shift has had an effect on what older adults think about where they want to live, how they want to live, and what support they might need, we asked. Capital Caring Health, a leading nonprofit provider of elder, advanced illness, and hospice care partnered with WebMD, a major online resource of health information to field a national survey.

The random online survey of 3,464 adults over age 50 (the majority of which were baby boomers) revealed information about current lifestyles, expectations for the future, and knowledge about different living and care options including aging in place, advanced illness, and hospice care.

Some survey results demonstrated a knowledge gap that could create a barrier to getting needed care; responses varied by race, income and self-reported health status.

Among the survey highlights:

Nearly 90% of adults over age 50—across all age, race, income, and health status categories—want to remain at home and “age in place.”

Across the board, aging in place is strongly preferred for multiple reasons, including comfort and cost. Almost 90% of adults over age 50 currently live in their own home (78%) or the home of a family member or someone outside the family (10%). The only exception is among those aged 80+, who are more likely to live in a retirement community or assisted living facility.

Despite the overwhelming interest to age in place, not everyone is aware of how to do that safely. The majority of older adults surveyed are familiar with different types of living situations—hospice and assisted living in particular, followed by long-term care facilities and aging in place.

However, that figure is related to health status and income, with familiarity lowest among those rating their health as “fair” or “poor.” And among those with household incomes below $50,000, a full 20% are “not very” or “not” familiar at all with the aging in place concept. The same applied to other alternative living options.

Yet awareness of hospice and advanced illness/palliative care was surprisingly high.

More than 50% of older adults believe they know “some” or “a lot” about hospice. They are most knowledgeable that care can be provided in either the home or the hospital. 

About the same number are also familiar with the range of hospice services including care coordination, grief support, spiritual, and respite care.

The majority also know about advanced illness/palliative care and services, including that care designed to treat an illness can be offered at the same time as palliative care, which manages pain and other symptoms.

But there is a knowledge gap, sometimes related to lower income and poorer health status. Older adults with lower self-reported health status (“good/fair/poor”) and household incomes below $50,000 generally feel less knowledgeable about hospice care services.

The same goes for palliative care, with nearly one-third stating they were not aware that care can be provided at any stage of a serious illness. The same percentage didn’t realize care also includes non-medical services such as help with insurance issues, scheduling appointments, arranging transportation, patient/family communication, and more.

To learn more about the survey and its results, you can request a copy of What Boomers Want: Living Independently Now and in the Future here.

What Care and Support Options Can Help?  

With the strong preference of adults over 50 to age in place, what realistic options are available given the inevitable process of growing older? Needs vary, of course, and while many boomers continue to feel great and lead a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to understand the difference between “life span” (expectancy) which is 78.7 years and “health span”—those years when one is generally healthy, free from serious disease and disability—which stands at 68.5.

Besides those differences, if there’s anything the past year has taught us, it’s that life is unpredictable. The healthcare needs you and your loved ones have today can literally change overnight. Alternatively, change may take place more gradually over a period of years. Regardless, you can be ready for what comes next with Capital Caring Health’s (CCH) “surround care” approach to help meet your quality-of-life goals no matter your health status or income.

CCH has special programs to help baby boomers and others remain independent and age safely in place—delivering primary care or support in the home for those who need a little extra help. We meet the older generation where they are, customizing care and adapting as needs change, across all stages of life with programs and services as described below.

Primary Care at Home (PCH) delivers peace of mind by making sure older adults don’t miss out on important health-care services due to advanced illness, disability, or other barriers that make getting to the doctor’s office difficult. From house calls to diagnostic tests at home, and managing other needed care like seeing a specialist, the care team is available 24/7. The best part is that Medicare pays for most of it!

Stay at Home Services is designed to help navigate the activities of daily life and more. The program offers an array of support services that may be needed due to illness, disability, lack of mobility, or advancing age. Case management certified nurses, social workers, and community health workers coordinate many types of support services to help older adults safely age in place. Services include: prescription delivery; transportation; home repair and modification for safety; meal preparation and/or delivery; light housekeeping, and pet care.

Advanced Illness/Palliative Care addresses the challenges faced by those living with serious illness through specialized medical care and a focus on relieving symptoms, pain, and stress. With the goal of improving quality of life for both patients and families, advanced illness/palliative care is available to anyone—at any age—suffering from a progressive illness (cancer or diseases of the heart, lung, kidney, and others), dementia, or neurological issues such as Parkinson’s disease or stroke. The care team works with the patient’s doctor and specialists and specific services vary for each case.

Palliative care is typically covered by regular Medicare Part B, some Medicaid programs, and many commercial health plans. Individual restrictions, deductibles, and co-pays may vary by coverage.

Hospice Care offers specialized medical care plus compassionate physical, emotional, spiritual, and practical support to people in the advanced stage of illness. Care is most often provided in the comfort and familiarity of home, so patients and their loved ones can focus on what matters most. An interdisciplinary team of experts—nurses, home health aides, social workers, chaplains, supervising physicians, nurse practitioners, and others—focus on care designed to relieve pain and other symptoms. Services include: 24/7 on-call support; medical equipment and supplies; medications to control symptoms and pain; counseling and support; and more.

Hospice care is covered in full by Medicare, usually at no additional cost; private insurance and most Medicaid programs also cover the services. Details may vary however, so it is important to check your individual policy.

A new Advanced Cardiac Care program helps patients with advanced heart disease/ congestive heart failure (CHF) safely manage their often-challenging symptoms at home, avoiding trips to the emergency room or hospital stays.

CCH’s advanced illness/palliative care program is uniquely qualified to address. Patients with end-stage heart disease remain safely at home under the care of an interdisciplinary care team, working with the patient’s doctor. Through the Advanced Cardiac Care program, CCH also offers primary care in the home, along with hospice when needed.

Whether you or a loved one are already living with CHF or newly diagnosed, learn more about this special program and request The Patient and Caregivers Handbook for practical help.