As we age, the things that matter most to us change also. One of the biggest things that matter nowadays is where we live as we age. Almost nine out of ten Americans now are deciding they want to grow old in their home – aging in place – rather than move into institutional care. And while this sounds like the most comfortable path to take, it’s not without its challenges, and it can involve a lot of planning and effort to pull this off successfully.
Things to Consider
It’s important to start as early as possible, and consider the ways and means long before putting them into play, if possible. Ask questions such as, how many people are involved in this course of action? Is there a spouse or family members who can be involved with your care as you age? Will anyone come to live in the house with you? These things may affect the space you require, and alter your potential remodeling plans.
The existing house may not be the best fit for getting older – it may make best sense to change homes before you get old enough not to want that effort. Would building an accessory dwelling unit in the back yard be of use, to you or to a helper or family member? Are there medical services close by? What about transportation – will you be able to drive or does this need to be arranged?
What kind of support network will you have if you become alone (because even a couple may face the bereavement of one spouse, leaving the other alone). Are there people and services you can put in your life to last the whole journey? Or should you join (or start) a Village to guarantee help when it’s needed?
More things to consider include health – will you maintain good physical and mental health as you age? This includes regular doctor visits, taking medications as prescribed, engaging in physical activity, and eating a healthy diet. How physically challenged are you or do you expect to be? Should you install fall detection sensors in the house or will you wear a medical alert smartwatch?
What degree of independence is important to you? What activities do you see in the future that will be important to you? What financial stability do you envisage? How secure is your neighborhood and living environment? Factors to check off the list include having a steady source of income, access to quality healthcare, and a safe place to live.
Staying connected with friends and family is important for many of us as we age. This can include maintaining close relationships with loved ones, participating in social activities, and staying engaged in the community.
And as we draw closer to the end of our lives, we may reflect on our accomplishments and consider what our legacy may be. We may choose to leave a financial legacy for loved ones, to memorialize values and beliefs to pass down, or turning to volunteering and philanthropy.
The Practical House
To age in place safely and comfortably, certain home improvements may be necessary, and there are many checklists to help with planning, including from AARP and even Lowes. At the very least, it’s a great idea to start downsizing in terms of clutter and possessions that most people have and really don’t need.
Accessibility is important, ensuring that there are no obstacles or barriers that could prevent someone from getting around their home safely. This could mean installing grab bars in the bathroom, adding a ramp to the front entrance, or widening doorways to accommodate a wheelchair. These changes may seem small, but they can make a huge difference in a person’s ability to move around their home.
Another important area to focus on is safety. As we age, our risk of falling increases. This means that it is important to have non-slip flooring, good lighting, and handrails in areas where falls are more likely to occur. Also, make those choices regarding detection sensors: wearable or installed?
Comfort matter a lot too of course, to support aging in place. This could mean installing new windows to improve insulation and reduce drafts, adding a walk-in shower to make bathing easier, or installing a stair lift to make getting up and down the stairs safer and more comfortable – or maybe you sold your two-story house and bought a single story that was more suitable?
Layout is important. Many older homes were not designed with accessibility in mind, and this can make it difficult for someone to move around as they age. You may need to make changes to the layout of the home to make it more accessible. This could mean removing walls to create an open floor plan, mapping out the ease of movement as part of the planning.
Energy efficiency of the home may be a large factor, not just for utility bills on a fixed income but also from our aging bodies that are not able to regulate temperature as they once could. To have a well-insulated and energy-efficient home could mean installing new windows, adding insulation, or upgrading to a more energy-efficient HVAC system.
Making home improvements to support aging in place is essential for many people who want to remain in their own homes as they age. These improvements include accessibility, safety, comfort, layout, and energy efficiency. But all of the important lifestyle and medical considerations should already have happened to determine which changes are most appropriate for your home and lifestyle.