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Aging in place: what to consider sooner than later

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | August 25, 2014

The generation that embraced the phrase, "Don't trust anyone over 30," in the '60s is now in their 60s. Many have seen their grandparents live out their last years in nursing homes, and just a couple of decades ago, more appealing assisted living facilities were currying favor with their parents' generation. But according to a survey conducted by op4g.com on behalf of ImprovementCenter.com, less than 20 percent of current homeowners want to move into either a nursing or assisted-living facility once the time comes when they have difficulty navigating their homes. While 32.6 percent would be willing to move in with a care-giving family member, nearly half -- 48.25 percent -- would prefer to age in place in their own homes.

If you think they're in denial about the inevitability of aging, their decisions can often be based more a matter of economics. Some homeowners have recently locked into 30-year mortgages at rates as low as 3.5 percent. Why give that up when you'd definitely prefer to live in your own home versus an institution? The cost of a nursing home per month, according to AssistedSeniorLiving.net ranges from $2,100 to $9,000 per person. Even assisted living, which offers more amenities for an extra expense, such as additional meals, parking, and personal care, can cost as much as $4,000 monthly. These options provide little incentive to move when you could enjoy the rest of your life in the home you already love without pulling out its equity to finance the cost of living in a facility.

A report compiled by John K. McIlwain in 2012 for the Urban Land Institute, Housing in America: The Baby Boomers Turn 65 confirms this. Regarding senior living facilities McIlwain says that the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation -- those already in their 70s and early 80s -- are concerned "...about the cost of housing communities for seniors and their wish to preserve limited retirement funds as long as possible. This generation also displays a growing antipathy to institutional living, expressed in the desire to age in place. Attracting members of the Silent Generation to these communities has become harder, a challenge likely to be even greater when the even more independent Leading-Edge Boomers reach their late 70s in ten years."

Making your home comfortable as you age in place

Most homes, even newer ones, were not built with aging or lack of mobility in mind. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is so convinced, however, of the trend toward homeowners choosing to age in place that they have established a program to train Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) for this growing segment of the building and remodeling market. These specially certified builders, remodeling contractors, and designers can help you carefully plan the changes needed to accommodate living at home for as long as possible.

If you expect to stay in your home -- or even if you plan to move into a family member's home -- it is not too early to start undertaking certain modifications to make the house you will age in easier to live in down the road. You might not be thinking about grab bars in the shower or ramps to accommodate mobility chairs right now, but by using stylish yet functional elements of universal design and making foundational renovations that will support additional remodeling later on, you can be assured that your living environment will be ready whenever you are.

Here's a list of some suggested universal design renovations -- some of which can be made long before you need them without sacrificing aesthetics for aging-in-place functionality:

  • Replacing hard-to-turn door and faucet knobs with lever handles
  • Incorporating pull-out shelving into your kitchen cabinets
  • Widening doorways to a minimum of 32 inches
  • Adding a master bedroom, bath and laundry on the first floor
  • Installing curbless, roll-in shower stalls and/or walk-in tubs
  • Reinforcing walls for future grab bars or installing stylish grab bars that camouflage their purpose
  • Improving lighting and using contrasting colors between floors, walls, and baseboard moldings

Not only can these leading modifications prep your house for future ones, they may actually make things surprisingly easier right now. Future renovations to consider when mobility becomes difficult may include raising kitchen appliances and lowering counters, installing slip-resistant flooring, and adding ramps, stairlifts, or possibly even an elevator.

Above all, when deciding whether aging in place is economically feasible for you, don't go overboard and price your home out of the market with aging-in-place renovations. If your home is worth only $150,000 and you need an elevator from the garage to reach your living area, you might want to consider moving to a home with no stairs or all of your living space on one level. One of the most common worries of aging is sustaining injuries from falling. Any aging-in-place remodeling or home purchase plans you make should, above all, involve taking every precaution to prevent falls.

The time to make decisions about staying, moving and/or remodeling is while you have the physical stamina and financial resources to make any necessary changes.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.