Prepare your home for an older person
If you want to stay in your home as you get older, take a look around and ask yourself if your home is a suitable place to spend your 70s, 80s and maybe beyond. If you were in a wheelchair, could you move around your house without assistance? Could you cook meals? If you had trouble walking or getting out of bed, how difficult would it be for someone to help you? Are there grab bars in the bathrooms? Easily accessible wall switches?
Polls show that an overwhelming majority of people want aging at home. But such aging in place, as many experts call it, is often made very difficult by a widespread lack of home modifications suitable for older people. As researchers at MetLife’s Mature Market Institute noted, most homes use “Peter Pan” housing designs because they appear to be built for people who will never get old.
The bases favoring aging at home are well known. More of us are aging and living longer. There is a good chance that we will need a period of extended care in our later years. Such care is very expensive, and that’s assuming we can find it. The growing number of older people means there will be more demand for available institutional care niches. Meanwhile, the number of informal caregivers may actually decline as smaller numbers of younger workers cope with an increasing demand for elderly care.
The message is clear: staying home and receiving care at home will increasingly be the default choice for retirement life. It is cheaper than institutionalized care. And it can also be a more satisfying place to grow old. However, this is often not the case today.
MetLife says sustained improvements in three areas are needed to help people have meaningful aging-in-place experiences.
1. The current range of medical, social and community support services should be unified into a coordinated network that can provide the right mix of services to meet the changing needs of an individual as they age. This will not only improve the quality of services but, if done correctly, reduce costs.
Progress in developing age-friendly communities has been slow, but there has been some promising development this week. The Pfizer Foundation and Grantmakers in Aging announced the formation of a national effort: “Community AGEnda: Improving America for All Ages”. It will provide $ 550,000 to Grantmakers in Aging as well as five grants of $ 150,000 each to stimulate age-friendly community development efforts in Atlanta, Kansas City, Miami-Dade County, Phoenix and Indiana (programs in Bloomington, Huntington and Indianapolis ).
2. The house must become a technological hub for individuals. Advances in communications are moving increasingly sophisticated healthcare and surveillance services to the home. Successful age-friendly homes should include remote sensing and communication tools, interactive tests and medical diagnostic devices, and online access to community support and social activities.
3. Age-friendly housing should use what are known as “one-size-fits-all design principles”. Without the right physical environment, all the coordinated services and interactive technology in the world will not produce good results. Fortunately, preparing your home for your “future self” is something you can start right now. It also doesn’t have to be done in extremely expensive pieces.
MetLife sets out three sets of priorities for home modifications. The first priority, which should lead to modest costs, is to prevent falls. Six specific changes are “remove area rugs, especially in the bathroom; install grab bars and handles in the bathroom; ensure strong handrails on both sides of the steps; good lighting and switching, especially in stairs, hallways and entryways; fix or remove the rugs on the stairs; [and] soft lighting of paths for night mobility. “
The second priority is to make a home more accessible and easier to navigate. The costs here can be greater, ranging from a few thousand dollars to 10 times that amount. A common goal is to remove raised entrances between rooms and to the house itself. This is not only necessary for wheelchair access, but also for ease of use by older occupants who are at risk of stumbling over raised thresholds. The cheapest changes involve the sensible relocation of furniture so that people can have clear paths in their homes. Such easy access to bedrooms and bathrooms is particularly important.
Finally, there are more expensive changes that include renovating the bathroom and kitchen. These modifications include a step-less shower or even a lift to help people get into the tub. Other changes in the bathroom include space to sit under the bathroom sink and additional space around the toilet so that a caregiver can provide assistance if needed.
In the kitchen, the universal design changes focus primarily on lowering work and storage areas so that wheelchair users and older occupants can prepare their meals and have easier access to food, to dishes and kitchen utensils. If you like to spend time outdoors, consider providing tarps to protect you from the sun and rain. Consider a backup generator. Doing all of this work could cost up to $ 75,000. For owners of multi-story homes, the bill could be even higher, especially if you think a first-floor master bedroom unit is a smart contingency for extended care needs.
While the expenses may seem high, consider the alternative of spending over $ 5,000 or more per month for a unit in a full-service retirement or assisted living community. Even including all home care and ongoing residential costs, your payback may not be very long. And if the job prevents an injury at home with hospital costs, the savings could be even greater.