Despite the allure of resort-like senior communities that offer a plethora of amenities including pools, gyms, beauty salons, and art studios, a recent AARP survey found that 76 percent of Americans age 50 and older would prefer to remain in their homes rather than locate to a senior community.
Often, when older adults do move, it’s for reasons other than the desire to live in a 55-plus community, such as high real estate taxes, ongoing maintenance tasks, cost of home ownership, the absence of an accessible first-floor bedroom and bathroom, or a neighborhood that makes them too dependent on cars to get around.
Helping clients who want to purchase or update a home where they can age in place is a growing niche in real estate and ancillary industries. Agents and brokers who are Senior Real Estate Specialists (SRES) or Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS) can help this cohort find homes or stay put and modify their homes to address physical or cognitive impairments.
Although most homeowners accept help when a crisis occurs, such as a fall or stroke, most experts say anyone 55 years and older should plan their future living situation long before they have difficulty climbing stairs or stepping into a bathtub. It often doesn’t require an expensive remodel, addition, or redesign that makes a house look institutional. You can find many resources online and one of the more comprehensive websites is www.aginginplace.org and I suggest you start there.
Several strategies offer the greatest promise and least cost for most aging-in-place homeowners and knowing these will help agents and brokers be the advisers their clients need.
Many experts recommend four steps to improve existing homes: putting essential spaces on a main level, including a first-floor bedroom; creating a zero-step entry; ensuring good interior air circulation; and improving kitchens and bathrooms.
When steps lead up to the front door, getting into and around a home can be a logistical nightmare for someone who’s wheelchair bound. Another challenge is interior hallways and doorways that are too narrow for wheelchair users or someone with a walker to pass through.
When it comes to circumventing steps, basic aluminum ramps can solve the problem, or a more extensive hardscape renovation may be required.
Often rooms can also be switched around to avoid taking down walls or putting on additions. For example, one could convert a living room into a bedroom due to room size and proximity to a bathroom, and then convert the original bedroom into a den.
Because falls can be devastating for elderly homeowners, modifying storage so that homeowners don’t have to use step stools is highly recommended. Additionally, removing area rugs, unneeded furniture and clutter is helpful. Switching out carpeting for hardwood, linoleum, or vinyl flooring is also a good consideration.
As eyesight worsens, painting rooms lighter colors can help and even lowering one countertop can dramatically improve the daily living of a homeowner who’s in a wheelchair.
Don’t neglect modifying outdoor space. Time spent outdoors is important and can help increase serotonin levels and lessen anxiety and depression.
Besides making architectural and design changes, there are new products that can make almost every facet of life easier for older homeowners. A stair or chair lift provides a relatively easy, affordable way to get to a second or third floor in a multilevel home. And although remodeling a bathroom can become expensive, switching out a tub that’s difficult to climb into for a curbless shower with a bench is often affordable and helps avoid an accident waiting to happen.
A heat lamp in a bathroom helps older adults cope with the common problem of feeling cold. Additionally, adding touchless faucets that make turning water on and off easier for those suffering with arthritis and replacing doorknobs with easier-to-turn lever handles is well received. Grab bars are a vital consideration and look less institutional when selected in a nylon coating or sharp black, red, or yellow color. While they’re becoming common in bathrooms, I also suggest them for kitchens and hallways for safe walks to a bathroom.
Good lighting is also important for performing tasks around the house and making nighttime bathroom visits safer. Many lights now come on automatically at dusk, so no programming is required. Or motion activated lights can also be a good solution.
Bringing in Help
When health worsens—whether physical or mental—and it becomes harder for a homeowner to perform activities of daily living, a helping hand may be essential to stay in a home. The good news is that there are many more resources available today for finding the right help on a part- or full-time basis when family members aren’t available or need backup. Many can be found through local nonprofit organizations, Google, insurance companies, Senior Real Estate
Specialists (SRES) or Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS).
Aging in place is possible, it takes considerable effort to thoroughly research all the options but can be a great solution for many families.