As Baby Boomers age, the number of older adult households is rapidly growing. Many of those planning for their retirement years are deciding there’s no place like home.
A 2021 survey by AARP found that more than three-quarters of adults ages 50 and older want to stay in their homes and communities.
Shaun Owens, an associate professor in the College of Social Work, says that people have important anchors that have taken years to build in their communities, which include their social and institutional connections, daily routines, and financial investment in their homes and local businesses. Being in the space that’s been home – sometimes for decades – also gives them a feeling of control over their lives.
“Adults 50+ want to maintain their autonomy as long as possible,” he says. “Moving to a new area or home could mean they’ll have to build new relationships and determine how to access to resources.”
Owens and research associate Mike Leonard developed the Age Ready community outreach series to teach older adults and their caregivers or care partners skills to help promote independent living as they age.
The series is an extension of Owens’s aging-in-place research through the Healthy Aging Research and Technology Lab and the SmartHOME Center for Economic Excellence. The HART lab’s cross-disciplinary research includes collaborations across the university toward the development of technologies for health communication, health decision-making and management, and healthy aging.
“We enjoy the Age Ready programs because they allow us to translate our academic knowledge and expertise to provide plain language information that can be easily understood and applied by community members,” Owens says. “Our hope is that by being informed, they may be able to maintain a safe and healthy lifestyle, which could help them remain in their homes.”
Aging in a familiar space and environment helps foster a sense of independence, Leonard says.
Since retirement from the computer industry, he has continued his own education while using his technology skills to assist and teach others in a variety of roles, both at USC and in the community.
“While working with clients during my internship at the S.C. Assistive Technology Program to design technology solutions to support a better quality of life, I realized that aging adults could benefit from many of the same things,” he says.
That led Leonard to teach classes through Richland Library on topics such as smartphones, digital assistants and online privacy and safety. The Age Ready series, which began in the fall of 2021, also is presented in partnership with Richland Library. The virtual sessions have covered a variety of topics such as End of Life Planning, Medication Management and Hospice and Palliative Care. A recent session focused on Physical Activity and Aging Well to share strategies for adopting and adapting exercise, which has benefits for both psychological and physical health.
Owens and Leonard organize and present the sessions on a volunteer basis. In addition, Leonard says they offer support by answering questions and providing feedback outside of the classes and by incorporating participants’ areas of interest into future programs. They also recruit subject matter experts from the university and the community for each topic.
“Even though the programs are usually offered on Saturdays, we’ve been able to leverage our statewide networks to successfully schedule speakers for our series,” Owens says. “Once they hear about the purpose of the programming, they’re on board to participate and are enthusiastic.”
Owens says his experiences with older family members piqued his interest in being proactive about healthy aging.
“If aging is not done healthily, it can be extremely expensive. Mike and I want to see our family members be able to remain in their homes and avoid costly assisted living and long-term care fees if possible,” he says. “Experiences with older family, coupled with my interest in technology inspired me to look at how we can combine community-focused health and technology education to enable people to remain in their homes longer.”