Three paths to comfort, safety and happiness as we age.
2018 will be my 58th year on earth. Most days I feel barely 40. However, two foot surgeries and an arthritic knee make me curse the stairs of my 50- year-old, three-flight split-level home all the way down to the basement laundry room.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, homes in my town were built for young families - not for aging baby boomers, and certainly not for people in their 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond. Yet, we become attached to these structures where we create a life, raise our kids and make our memories.
It’s tough to watch a parent struggle to get around in the home they don’t want to leave. My friend’s recently-widowed mom could no longer climb her steep stairs. They converted the downstairs dining room to her bedroom, and carved a new walker-accessible bathroom out of part of the living room. It wasn’t cheap. But she is happy. And safe.
Everyone has a vision of where and how they’ll age. If you want to remain in your home, do some honest evaluation. After we pass 50, our balance isn’t as great. Joints begin to hurt. And if we’re not actively maintaining our core strength and balance, our risk of falling and injury rises.
According to this HomeCare Magazine article, the time to plan either home modifications or remodeling is before you hit 60, not after a crisis and there’s little time. Plus, if you do the renovation or remodeling early on, you get to enjoy the benefits longer.
Modifications vs. Remodeling
Would your home’s current layout and features be movement-friendly and safe if you were to need a cane? A walker? A wheelchair? A special bed?
It’s all well and good to put grab bars on the walls, eliminate the slippery rugs and install a home security system. These are the first-level modifications many people install themselves. But if you can’t walk easily on your own and/or use any kind of assistive device, you’re going to need much more than that: Open spaces, one floor living, enlarged doorways, step-free showers, even the newest voice activated controls.
A certified aging in place design specialist can help you estimate what it will cost to make what could be dramatic changes to your floor plan and fixtures. For example: If you have stairs, a lift might be installed. But how will you get out of it, securely, to move down the hall on the second floor? If you like to cook, will your kitchen space permit you to turn with enough room to not bump into things? Will you be able to easily reach into cupboards, pantries, closets?
Begin looking at the areas of highest fall and mobility risk: Your bathroom. Your kitchen. Is your flooring smooth? Are there elevation transitions between rooms? How big are the door openings? How could stairways and stairwells be modified? Search for and consult with two or three renovation or remodeling specialists in your area with at least two of these certifications:
Accessible Home Improvement of America (AHIA)’s Certified Environmental Access Consultant (CEAC) credential
National Association of Home Builders’ Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) credential
Senior Living Institute’s Certified Living in Place Professional (CLIPP) certification
The Center for Health Design’s Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC)
Keep Relocation on the Table
If the costs of remodeling your home for aging-in-place access become overwhelming relative to the home’s value, or its layout (e.g. all bedrooms on the second floor) make living difficult even with a remodel, it may be time to consider other options.
By moving to a one-floor home, apartment or condo that already has the accessibility features you need, you avoid the time, expense and hassle of contracting and supervising a remodel. It also gives you the opportunity to downsize unused possessions and remove clutter, which can inhibit safe movement.
Moving to a senior living community that offers residences with these same features, plus the added benefit of meals, maintenance, enriching activities and social opportunities. From Continuing Care Retirement Communities (often called Life Care Communities) to rental communities designed for seniors, there are dozens of options to explore in your region for different budgets.
Nostalgia vs. Reality
I’ve lived in my home for 26 years. I’ve invested a lot in it. I love my neighborhood. I’m attached to it. But I’m clear on one thing: No amount of modifications or remodeling would make it livable if my health and mobility were to head south. Thus, I’m already working on my future plan: To sell within the next five to seven years and move to a one-floor, open floor plan, low maintenance residence. Whether it’s a one-floor house, an apartment or a condominium, my next home will have the features I’ll need to live safely and happily during the next decades of my life, come what may.
What’s your plan? Have you begun to assess how your home could be altered for your future living needs? Have you called a senior living design or remodeling professional? Have you taken stock of all the stuff that you could sell or give to your kids (even if you remain in your home)? Have you begun to explore alternative housing options? If you are over 50, it’s not too early to begin this process.