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Aging in Place: Preparing your Home

By Jane Noble
March 28, 2013  

Baby Boomers are redefining aging and retirement. This independent generation is determined to stay active, age with grace, celebrate life and stay at home for as long as possible. Given that the over 65 population is expected to swell to 55 million in 2020, they will have a strong and loud voice. Families, care agencies, financial planners and house remodelers need to pay close attention to the changing needs and desires of this silver haired group.

“Aging in place” is a term used to describe a senior living in the residence of their choice as they age and receiving the support and assistance they need in order to stay there.

According to research by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), nearly 85% of US seniors expressed a desire to stay in their own homes as they age, even if they needed day-to-day assistance or  ongoing health care during retirement. Very few expressed a preference for moving to a relative’s home or a facility where care is provided.

 

One of the primary reasons seniors gave for wanting to stay at home was a desire to live by their own rules. Seniors today are typically not ready to just give up their independence. Across the other side of the world in New Zealand, a recent study by Dr. Janine L. Wiles posed the question “What is the ideal place to grow older?” Seniors ranging in age from 55 to 92 took part in focus groups and interviews. The results showed a common theme – older people want choices about where and how they age.

Aging in place is not ideal or possible for everyone and it requires a certain amount of good fortune, good health and good support services. For many it can be an advantage in terms of connection to a place, to friends, and to a community. A sense of identity and autonomy is maintained. Familiar surroundings help foster feelings of comfort and security and long-term emotional attachments to environmental surroundings have been shown to contribute to well-being in old age.  In chatting with some of our own Amada clients who still live at home with regular help from our caregivers, they said they preferred to continue living in a diverse community rather than just with older people.

So assuming that your loved ones have no serious health issues, such as dementia, and express a preference to age in place; what measures can be taken to help them stay at home?  Amada and our team of dedicated caregivers can provide assistance with simple, everyday tasks, but how can you create an age friendly and safe environment?  First of all, it helps to consider how the bodies and capabilities of seniors may alter with age. Examples of changes that might be experienced include reduced vision, decreased muscle strength, increased risk of falls due to loss of balance, reduced hearing and decreased mobility. Simple modifications to the home in anticipation of these changes can make a huge difference.  Forward planning is key to a smoother process. It is not necessary to renovate an entire home in one fell swoop, but it helps to be familiar with some of the tools and alternatives that are on the market.

In order to promote the idea of remodeling for ease and safety, AARP has teamed up with the National Association of Home Builders to create a designation for certified aging in place specialists trained in designing and modifying residences for the elderly. Several thousand builders, contractors, remodelers and architects have been certified.

The areas of the house a specialist will evaluate are:

 

  • Entryways
  • Bathrooms
  • Bedrooms
  • Kitchens
  • Garages
  • Stairways
  • Windows
  • Lighting
  • Exterior of the home

 

Here are some questions to consider when evaluating whether your home will meet your future needs. If you plan ahead and anticipate problems before they are encountered, you will be able to live in your own home for years to come.

 

Is the yard and exterior of your home as low maintenance as possible?

How wide are your entryways? Would they be able to accommodate a wheelchair?

Do you have lots of different levels in your home?

Do you have a steep staircase?

Is your master bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor?

Do you have non-slip flooring throughout?

Are all carpets and area rugs secured?

Are your kitchen cupboards and bathroom cabinets easily reachable?

Are your appliances easily accessible?

Do you have lever style handles throughout?

Do you have bright lighting in all areas, especially places like stairway landings?

Do you have secure handrails on all steps (if the home has them)?

Do you have multiple sources for lighting to reduce glare and shadows?

Do you have grab bars in the bathroom?

Can light switches, electrical outlets and thermostats be easily reached?

Can windows be opened without effort?

Do closets have lights and adjustable shelves?

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