Will Aging in Place Work For You?
By Sally Abrahms
Most people want to grow old in a familiar place or community. According to AARP, 87 percent prefer to age in place rather than move to a retirement community or long-term care facility. No surprise!
You may adore your house. But what if your friends and neighbors move away? What if your home has steep steps and you develop mobility issues?
Your “perfect” house can change with time. Say you live in a rural area with few healthcare (i.e. home care, adult day care, doctors, hospitals, physical therapy) or transportation services, amenities (parks, restaurants, shops), and people important to you—and are around to help take care of you if you need it. What was charming and peaceful before might now be socially isolating and medically challenging.
Even if you have grab bars galore, no steps and your master bedroom and bath are on the first floor--or even better, the house is all one level—you might need a new place to age in place.
In a Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University report, less than 25% of age 55+ homeowners had a first floor bedroom and bathroom, wide enough doorways, and a way to get into their house without steps. These are features of universal design that benefit all ages--whether it’s an older adult with a walker or a young parent with a baby stroller.
A 2016 HomeAdvisor study found that 40 percent of homeowners have never thought about aging in place renovations because they don’t have a physical disability; 20 percent don’t think they’re old enough to address the issue.
Retrofitting and Renovating Your Home
Many people can’t afford to move. Others won’t leave unless it’s “feet first;” still others are willing to make their house home age-friendly but don’t know how.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) trains Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (a.k.a. CAPS) who help with renovations. They may be builders, architects, remodelers, interior designers or occupational therapists.
Here is what CAPS do:
- Evaluate the house, check for safety issues (i.e. rugs, poor lighting, wires) that can cause tripping and remediate problem areas
- Install grab bars in the bathroom and put in a walk- in shower
- Widen doorways and hallways to accommodate a walker or wheelchair
- Make kitchen cabinets and counters accessible
- Switch the first floor den to a master bedroom and create a full bathroom. If you can’t, add a stairlift or even an elevator
- Find solutions to, or ways to mitigate, steps inside and out of the house a well as sloped entryway sidewalks
- Confer with a realtor about resale value before making major changes
Technology for Aging in Place
Technology can be tremendously helpful. There are scores of devices, apps and gadgets that provide adult children with peace of mind and information while allowing Mom and Dad to live independently and safely.
It might be: a wearable tech necklace or watch a parent wears to summon help or that detects a fall; an app with GPS tracking to make sure Mom isn’t wandering; a sensor on the bed in case she doesn’t get out of bed after a designated time you’ve set; and a website to tell you that Dad has taken his medicine.
For your parents, there are tablets, computers and smartphones to entertain (games, music), inform (look up a fact, delve deeper into a current events story you’re following) and connect (with family and friends). It might be Facetiming or Skyping with the grandkids.
And then there’s Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana. They are voice-enabled virtual assistant software embedded in smart speakers, watches, phones, TVs and laptops. You can speak a question (“What is the weather in Dallas on Tuesday?”) or issue a command (“Read me the latest news headlines” or “Turn on the living room lights”).
Housing That Promotes Community
Some types of housing allow you to age at home and be part of a community. They include cohousing, shared housing and purpose-driven intergenerational communities (i.e. to live among, and help, kids from the foster care system or young adults with autism).
Another way to stay where you are, receive services stay socially engaged is the Village model.
Here’s how it works:
- You join a membership nonprofit Village organization in your neighborhood or area (usually a few hundred dollars a year)
- There are activities and services: perhaps a group dinner at a local restaurant; a trip to theatre, or travel with other members
- Vendors are vetted and may offer a discount (a dog walker, plumber, neighborhood yoga class, transportation company, home healthcare agency)
Your needs are likely to change. Rather than wait for a crisis, build your support system and know your options. It will help you or your loved one stay home alone without being lonely. Aging in place is a lot more than where you live—it’s also how.
Aging in Place Websites:
- AARP Home Fit Guide: Do it yourself and projects for professionals
- The National Aging in Place Council: Professionals near you, toolkits and housing
- AgingInPlace.com: Resources and tips
- National Association of Home Builders: Finding CAPS, remodeling checklist and other information
- Age Friendly Advisor Cities Guide: Scores neighborhoods and communities for how age friendly they are
Sally Abrahms is an award-winning journalist and nationally recognized expert on baby boomers and seniors. She has published in TIME, Newsweek, AARP ( AARP the Magazine, the AARP Bulletin, aarp.org), The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Kiplinger's Retirement Report, USA Today, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among others.