It has been quite a while since we’ve written on the AgingOptions blog about some of the specific ways people are modifying their houses to make it possible to age in place. For that reason, and because this is a topic we get questions about frequently, we were immediately interested in this timely article from the Washington Post that was published only a few days ago. The article is called “Design for Living,” and its promise is attractive: if you want to remain in your home, “Modifications can remove the obstacles to aging in place.”
One Percent Meet the Test
“For many older adults,” says the article, “there’s no place like their own home. The problem is that most of the nation’s housing is not designed to accommodate physical and cognitive challenges that come with aging.” Based on our research, that appears to be a major understatement. We tracked down this 14-page study on Aging in Place published by Freddie Mac in early 2017 that said only an estimated one percent of the nation’s housing stock – about one million units – currently include all five of the features deemed essential for aging in place. The “big five” as described in the Freddie Mac report are:
- No-step entries (No need to climb steps to enter the main floor of the house.)
- Single-floor living (A bedroom and full bathroom on the main floor of the house.)
- Extra-wide hallways and doors (Wheelchairs require doors and halls with widths of at least 36 inches. Standard doorways are only 28 to 32 inches wide.)
- Accessible electrical controls (Switches and outlets that can be reached from a wheelchair.)
- Lever-style handles on doors and faucets (To overcome the difficulty of turning traditional doorknobs and faucet handles.)
Is Your Home Right for Aging in Place?
As we said, homes with all five are extremely scarce, but even if you lower your search criteria a bit the choices among existing homes are extremely limited. The Joint Center for Housing Studies says only about four percent of U.S. housing units have the first three on the list above, which housing experts deem most critical. That means, instead of trying to find a home that’s already prepared for you to age in place, upgrading your own home might be the best choice – if your home is suitable, that is. One man quoted in the Washington Post article realized that his two-story turn-of-the-century Victorian home was not a candidate for a make-over. According to the owner, the Denver house “had high ceilings and winding staircases. It would have been very difficult to adapt to live in place.” He considered installing an elevator but realized it would have destroyed the gracious feeling of the old home’s grand entryway. “Instead of renovating,” said the Washington Post, the owners chose “Plan B, moving to a three-bedroom, ranch-style bungalow.” It’s important, say experts on senior housing, to be honest with yourself: the house you’re living in might not be the right choice for you in another five or ten years.
“Steep stairways, narrow hallways and other structural barriers can make an older home feel like an indoor obstacle course,” the article says. “A few universal design modifications can go a long way in helping residents of all ages live safely and comfortably in their homes.” The article does a good job of pointing out that making your home a safe and comfortable place to grow older also makes it a desirable home for residents of all ages. “Living comfortably and living in place is not really an age issue,” said one homeowner. “It’s for the young mother with her arm full of groceries and pushing a stroller, the guy who blew out his knee while skiing and coming back from rehabbing. It’s for every one of us. We want to live comfortably wherever it is we are.”
A Cost-Benefit Analysis
The Washington Post article makes for an interesting read, and it does echo much of what we’ve seen elsewhere about aging in place, including a listing of the “must-have” features in an age-appropriate home: wider doorways, an accessible bathroom, and a kitchen modified for better, safer access to appliances and outlets. The article advocates investing in new smart-home technology which it calls “a game-changer for remaining independent in your home and staying connected with others.” There’s also some vitally important advice about making your home fall-proof (or as close to fall-proof as you can make it) with handrails on both sides of stairs, fewer throw rugs and other tripping hazards, better lighting and a wider front entry. These are all good ideas, but they do make us wonder about the cost. It’s clear that the homeowners profiled in the Washington Post could afford to spend a bundle to get their homes into a safe, livable state – but if that’s not your situation, and your present home isn’t well-designed for secure living as you age, it might be time to consider a move.
Housing is a critical part of retirement preparation, but it’s only one facet. Here at AgingOptions we recommend a uniquely comprehensive approach to retirement planning in which housing is just one of many components. We call this LifePlanning, because this approach really does cause all the key aspects of life as you age to mesh together: housing, medical, financial, legal and family. With a LifePlan in place, you’ll be able to experience a secure and fruitful retirement in which your assets will be protected, you’ll be able to avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and you won’t be forced against your will into institutional care.
Why not invest just a few hours and find out more? You’ll be very glad you did! The best way to explore the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan is by accepting Rajiv’s invitation to join him at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. We offer these popular free informational events several times each month, in locations throughout the area. Please visit our Live Events page for a complete calendar of currently-scheduled seminars, then register online or by phone for the date of your choice. Just as no one type of housing is the right choice for every senior, there’s no “cookie-cutter” plan that’s right for every retiree. Your personalized LifePlan will literally become the passport to the retirement of your dreams. Age on!
(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com)