Many people these days are contemplating where they will be living as they grow older. While some people choose senior living communities, a significant majority of people want to remain right where they are.
This trend, often called aging in place, is growing in popularity for several reasons. First and foremost, people are most relaxed and at ease in the comfort of their own homes. Secondly, the cost of care at home is often lower than the cost of care in a facility. And perhaps most importantly, seniors who age in place continue to play a part in the communities they’ve long called home, and those around them do not lose the benefit of the wisdom of these elders.
Personally, I began to get involved in home remodeling & modifications to facilitate aging in place when my mother had a stroke and could no longer get in and out of her home and safely use the bathroom. Her home, like most existing homes, was what we sometimes describe as “Peter Pan housing” that is, housing built for people who never grow old.
Having been involved in construction since 1986 and after performing some home modifications for my mother, I quickly realized that many of the other 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each day would likely need home modifications, too.
I’m also an instructor for the Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) certification offered by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) as well as holding an Executive Certificate in Home Modification from the University of Southern California. I have been writing articles on aging in place, home modification, and Universal Design for over eight years.
Why are home modifications so important for anyone who’s planning to age in place? As I mentioned above, most of us live in “Peter Pan housing”. These homes are not well suited to the mobility impairments that many of us face as we age. There are usually too many stairs, the doorways and hallways are too narrow, the floors are too slippery and the bathrooms too small. All of these conditions can be inconvenient at best and hazardous at worst, leading to falls or other serious injuries.
When putting together a plan for aging in place, I strongly recommend that you consider making needed home modifications sooner rather than later. I often hear, “I’m not ready for that yet!” from people I talk to about home modifications – but that’s exactly when you want to get these changes made!
If you wait until you’re ready for them, it will often be too late. Unfortunately, for too many people, the big sign that they need home modifications is often a fall or other serious injury. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Below, I answer some frequently asked questions I’ve heard over the years about aging in place.
What does it mean to "age in place?"
Chances are, you’ve heard the term "aging in place." It is being discussed with greater frequency these days in print, broadcast and social media. In spite of growing awareness of this topic, I believe there is still quite a bit of confusion as to what aging in place actually entails and why it should be an option to consider. Simply put, aging in place means choosing to remain in the home of your choice throughout the course of your life rather than leaving your home and moving to a senior living arrangement of one kind or another. The operative word here is choice. I’m a firm believer in the right of people at all stages of life to choose their own living arrangements.
As always, along with this right comes responsibility. When you or a loved one chooses to age in place, it’s up to you to create or find the support systems you’ll need ot sustain this lifestyle, including housing, healthcare, personal finance, transportation and social interactions. This is one of the misconceptions that can surround the idea of aging in place.
I’ve often encountered the misleading idea that aging in place refers only to adapting the physical environment for mobility. The reality is that this is only part of the picture. Many times, you will also need the services of home care agencies, elder law attorneys, a multi-disciplinary healthcare team and other professionals.
A good source for finding service providers is the National Aging in Place Council, especially if there’s a local chapter. Many of these caregiving resources can also be found right here at Caring.com. Bear in mind that many of these support systems will be included if you choose other senior living options, such as an independent living or assisted living community.
Aging in place typically means a level of autonomy and independence not available with other senior living options, but it’s still important to do your homework and have the supports you need in place early. Advanced planning is extremely important in order to successfully age in place.
What are some home upgrades that can make it safer for my aging mother to live on her own?
One specific resource I recommend looking into is accessible homes, which are newly constructed or modified homes that include with zero-step entries, accessible bathrooms, nonslip flooring and handrails and grab bars throughout. You should also have a plan in place for in home care, whether your mother needs it right now or not. A remote monitoring system can be particularly useful in alerting a loved one or other caregiver of trouble, especially when living alone.
Having an alternative form of transportation waiting in the wings if and when driving is no longer a viable option is an extremely important piece of the puzzle as well. Starting early to make sure that your mother has a plan will go a long way towards making your aging in place journey a successful one.
Some easy home upgrades you may want to consider to help an aging parent age in place center around safety. Fall prevention should be your No. 1 priority when considering home modifications. Make sure there are no trailing extension cords, loose throw rugs or clutter that could present a tripping hazard. Install handrails and grab bars throughout the home, particularly at stairs and in bathrooms.
Also, make sure that there is plenty of bright, glare-free lighting throughout the home. Battery powered lights with built in motion sensors are a low cost way to add extra lighting where needed.
How do I keep my elderly parent from falling on the way to the bathroom?
This is of particular concern during the night when he or she is unlikely to be fully awake. First, make sure there are no trip hazards in the walkway. Loose throw rugs and trailing extension cords are some of the worst offenders. Second, make sure that there are securely mounted grab bars or handholds along the way from bedroom to bathroom.
One great way to ensure there are continuous handrails in the home is by using Promenaid handrails, which are modular and can be installed throughout the house as needed. Third, make sure there’s sufficient lighting so your parent can see the way clearly, without being so bright that it creates glare.
Installing low-level light at the baseboard or in toe kicks controlled by motion sensors is a great way to accomplish this. Last but not least, choose non-slip materials for flooring, particularly in the bathroom where the floor is often wet and is typically the most hazardous place in the home for falls.
Is there a tax break for home modifications?
If you get a prescription from your doctor for the home modification, you may be able to deduct it from your taxes as a medical expense. Some states, such as Virginia, where I live, offer state tax credits for home modifications or for new homes built with accessibility features.
Perhaps the most significant potential tax break is HR 1780, the Senior Accessible Housing Act. Introduced in Congress in March of 2017, the bill has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. If enacted, the bill would provide a nonrefundable personal tax credit for senior citizens who modify their homes to enhance their ability to remain safely, independently, and comfortably in their residences. If you’re interested in supporting this bill, you can visit HomesRenewed Lobbying HR 1780 here.
Have other questions about home modifications for aging adults, or aging in place? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We may publish your question on Caring.com.