Top 10 Home Improvements for Aging in Place

aging-in-place-improvementsWhen you think of your golden years, do you imagine spending them in your own home? You’re not alone. 78% of those aged 50-64 said they want to live in their own residence as long as possible, according to a June 2012 AARP report. But mobility and health issues can make that option difficult for some seniors. Staying in your own home as you age takes planning and help, but the rewards are many. Whether you live alone or with a spouse, aging in place keeps you closer to family, maintains your independence and connects you to your community. And, it costs less in the long run.

Less Cost and Better Quality of Life

While there are certainly costs involved in equipping your home to meet your needs as you age, those costs are much smaller than assisted living or nursing home care fees, which average about $50,000 per year. And even if you want to enter into an assisted living facility or a nursing home, it’s not always immediately possible, given the shortage of quality caregivers in long-term care and the rising population of seniors who need their services. In 2011, the first wave of baby boomers reached retirement age. Every day, 10,000 more baby boomers turn 65. For some, aging in place is not just a choice, but a necessity.

Planning for Your Golden Years at Home

The first step toward making sure you can age in place is to think about how your home can accommodate your needs and those of your spouse — both now and in the future. A good idea is to meet with an occupational therapist (OT) who specializes in geriatrics to discuss specific improvements you’ll need for your home. Geriatric OTs are trained to evaluate your mobility and capabilities and make recommendations for improvements that can make your home life much easier. Then, with your doctor, consider your overall health and the potential for further complications from diseases (such as diabetes) which can impact mobility later in life.

10 Things You Can Do Now

These are the most common and easiest home improvements you can make now to adapt your home for senior living.

  1. Accessibility - Does your home have at least one entryway that does not have stairs? Ramps and stairlifts make homes easier to stay in as mobility declines. Also, add grab bars to stairs, tubs and showers.
  2. Bathroom Upgrade - Getting in and out of a bathtub and shower combination can be dangerous as seniors’ agility declines. TubcuT is an affordable option for converting a tub to a shower. It is designed to help you maintain your independence and bathe with dignity. Also, curbless showers for wheelchair access are an option.
  3. Energy Efficiency - Many seniors rely completely on a fixed income and every dollar counts. Save money on electricity and gas, and stay comfortable, when you upgrade to energy-efficient heating and cooling systems as well as appliances. Check attic insulation and upgrade windows with energy efficient replacement windows. The energy cost savings will continue to add up, and if the upgrades/replacements are done before December 31, 2013, you’ll also qualify for a substantial tax credit.
  4. Floors - Prevent falls (the leading cause of disability in older people) by removing throw rugs, relocating furniture, securing loose wires, using non-skid spray on tile and linoleum floors and maintaining a wide area for movement in hallways and pathways in other rooms. Also, consider whether your hallways and rooms are clear enough for a wheelchair to get through easily.
  5. Lighting - Dimly lit areas present another fall hazard. As eyesight declines, it’s important to address lighting issues throughout the house, taking extra care that light fixtures have at least two bulbs in vital areas such as the entryway, bathrooms and kitchen. This way, when one bulb burns out, you still have light in that area. Make sure light switches are low enough to easily reach from a wheelchair.
  6. Alarm System - Elderly people are often targeted by burglars and a security system can not only help thwart criminals, but provide peace of mind and often make it easier to get emergency services.
  7. Door knobs and Cabinets - Arthritis and other conditions make it harder to open doors and cabinets. Replace door knobs and cabinet hardware with levers, which are much easier to grasp.
  8. Risers - Getting out of bed or standing up from a sitting position gets harder as we age. The lower the furniture, the harder it is. Installing bed risers, using power seat uplift assists and rising recliners make it easier to get up and down.
  9. Door Entry Intercoms - Answering the door can be difficult for those who can’t get up from a sitting position easily, but an intercom allows you to communicate with the person outside the door, and even press a button to let them in, all from where you are sitting.
  10. Personal Response System - A lifesaver for seniors who live alone, a personal emergency response system is a lightweight, battery-powered “help” button that is carried by the user. It transmits to a console connected to the user’s telephone. When emergency help is needed, such as medical, fire, or police, the user can press the transmitter’s “help” button, sending a radio signal to the console which then automatically dials one or more emergency telephone numbers.

By getting started on these top 10 home improvements, you can outfit your home for comfort, safety and long-term livability — as well as protect your investment and maintain your independence.