In the late 20th century, nursing homes and assisted living facilities were popping up quicker than you can imagine — and being filled even faster. As parents grew older, it was quite commonplace for their children to “put them in a home,” though this phrase has evolved into more of a threat than a legitimate care solution. Despite the lengthening of average life expectancies and increase in the country’s elderly population which many thought would increase the prevalence of nursing homes, they appear to be on their way out.
The reasoning behind the trend away from nursing homes is multifactorial. Staffing shortages in many facilities led to fears of neglect, and the impact of coronavirus raised even more concerns among families planning for the futures of their loved ones.1 Further, the rise in popularity of alternatives — like aging in place resources — has proven that there are better ways for adults to age gracefully without sacrificing their hard-earned freedoms. Below, the team at Truehold explores the recent surge in popularity of “aging in place,” as well as several relevant home modification ideas for aging homeowners.
So, what is aging in place? As opposed to aging in a nursing home, an assisted living facility, or a retirement community, aging in place is the decision on behalf of aging adults to remain in the place where they’ve planted their roots and feel most comfortable. In addition to the comfort of aging in an environment you’re familiar with, aging in place is a cost-effective alternative to senior care facilities; rent in these communities can range from $1,500 to $6,000 per month.2
Of course, aging in place may require some adjustment in order to be an effective long-term solution — and some aging in place home modifications will need to be made in order to ensure that post-retirement is comfortable, sustainable, and safe.
Aging in place home modifications can range from “smart” device systems that can help you easily control everything from light switches to home security, to widening doorways to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs. Here are some of the most common aging in place home modifications:
Hiking up several sets of stairs can be challenging for anyone, and the challenge is only heightened as the years tick on. Therefore, one of the first aging in place modifications that many homeowners make is the addition of home entry ramps and lift systems. A wheelchair ramp can be a great addition to homes with sets of steps or even just a steep threshold — as wheelchairs and walkers can easily get hung up on these uneven surfaces. Whether you’re struggling with your balance or have some mobility issues, ramps make it easier to get in and out of your chosen aging in place locale.
Once inside, multi-story or split-level homes can also benefit from aging in place modifications. In this case, stair chair lifts can make the process of getting up and down stairs both easier and safer. Though a stair lift once seemed like a far-flung “home of the future” device, it is now used by countless homeowners looking to effectively age in place. Straight sets of stairs, spiral staircases, and even landing steps can be equipped with a stair lift, meaning just about any home can benefit from this modification.
For homeowners opting to age in place who may rely on a wheelchair, walker, or other mobility equipment to get around safely, widening doorways may be a necessary remodeling project. According to famed home improvement expert Bob Vila, the average width of a non-utility or closet doorway is 32 inches.3 The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), on the other hand, stipulates that doors 36 inches or wider are considered compliant. Therefore, widening door frames is a common aging in place home modification — especially in older homes built before current codes were put in place. While deviating from the original design of your Spanish-style, Tudor, or mid-century modern home might not be ideal, the tradeoff you’ll make for comfort and convenience is more than worth it.
Flooring, too, can hinder mobility for even those not reliant on mobility equipment. Shaggy carpet and slick rugs can prove dangerous to older adults, and high-pile carpet should be swapped out for something with a lower nap to prevent tripping or snagging. Some alternatives to carpet include hardwood, laminate, or tile flooring, but these slippery options may also be hazardous. Should aging homeowners opt for these slick surfaces, laying down low throw rugs that are taped down or set atop grippy rug mats can improve both mobility and safety.
While aging in place modifications of the kitchen and bathroom can be extensive, these changes have a huge payoff when it comes to making everyday life safer and easier. Starting in the kitchen: Older adults will benefit from having cabinets, appliances, counters, and surfaces lowered. This can benefit an older person who may need to access their cabinets or operate appliances from a wheelchair, and also helps a home cook who might simply need to take a seat when working for extended periods of time. Further, shoulder and overhead mobility tends to worsen as we age, and lowering cabinets or bringing appliances closer to the counter’s edge will prevent potential strain and injury from reaching.
Having an aging in place bathroom design is also vital, as statistics show that most slip and fall accidents among seniors happen in the shower or bathtub. Further, nearly 30% of these slip and fall accidents result in emergency room visits — making each bathroom modification even more pressing.4 Installing grip pads or strips in a bathtub equipped with a showerhead can be a short-term aging in place solution, as can a safety bar, but those looking to future-proof their home should consider modifications that will hold up in the long run. Walk-in showers or bathtubs are costly (but effective) aging in place home modifications, but these can require extensive renovations which are out of reach for some. Alternatively, older homeowners can install a bathtub transfer bench; seniors with mobility constraints can safely cross a bathtub’s threshold without risking a fall.
While we have discussed some technology already in the form of the stairlift system, these aging in place home modifications are less concerned with allowing homeowners to safely get around the house — and more focused on bringing the house to them. Siri and Alexa are already a part of our daily lives (whether we like it or not,) but these intelligent tools can do so much more than tell us what song is playing on the radio or what the weather will be like this weekend. When used properly, these smart devices can make ordering groceries easier, monitor key health metrics, and show you who’s at the door without having to walk across the house.
The capabilities of smart devices don’t stop there. Looking to turn off the lights downstairs or illuminate the hallway without searching for the switch in the dark? A smart home system makes this a possibility. But the importance of these aging in place modifications aren’t limited to conveniences; they can prove to be life-saving. Wearable technology like the Apple Watch can detect falls, and notify emergency services in the event that a fall is detected. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s not; there are several reports of this technology detecting a hard fall, effectively notifying proper personnel, and saving the lives of elderly wearers.5 Though these devices have proven to be effective, aging homeowners should also install a proper medical alert system designed to reach out to specific contacts in the event of an emergency.
Although the home modification ideas listed above can dramatically improve home safety and make it better suited for aging in place, these tools are only part of the puzzle. Older adults enjoying their recent retirement will likely be able to enjoy aging in place unassisted, but as time passes it’s possible that expert personnel will need to be brought into the fold. Having assistance from friends, family, trusted neighbors, and caregivers can ensure the safety of aging homeowners without sacrificing independence. If you’re exploring ways to support a loved one’s aging in place efforts, try to see where you can help out to create a comfortable and safe at-home environment.
Whether you’re looking into aging in place home modifications for yourself or a loved one, a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) can also prove to be a valuable asset. These experts are primarily home remodelers — helping older adults make the above aging in place home modifications to their existing spaces — but also include health care professionals, at-home care providers, and other professionals looking to use their expertise to make aging homeowners more comfortable. Reaching out to a Certified Aging in Place Specialist can be done well before you or your loved one begin the process of aging in place, and these experts can help you make the necessary changes so that you’re prepared when the time comes.
Aging in place isn’t for everyone — and determining whether this is the right decision for your future will help you create a plan to take on the above aging in place home modifications. Some of the benefits of aging in place include:
While the home modification ideas outlined above may be costly, especially when considered together, the costs of assisted living facilities and retirement communities can make these modifications seem inexpensive. Further, long-term care options are excluded from the majority of insurance plans (and Medicaid,) leaving these exorbitant costs to erode away at finite retirement funds.
Though some assistance will be necessary as homeowners age, aging in place allows older adults to retain their independence by receiving occasional care under their own roof — as opposed to the around-the-clock supervision which may come with being in an assisted living facility.
For some aging homeowners, selling a home that you’ve lived in for decades can feel like losing a part of yourself. And, though retirement communities bring perks of their own, many homeowners aren’t ready to embrace the lifestyle shift. This makes aging in place a familiar alternative to downsizing, and allows homeowners to enjoy their retirement on their own terms.
Further, older adults struggling with dementia or showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease may benefit from a familiar setting — as changes in settings and routines have been proven to negatively affect those with the disease.6
For some older adults, the drawbacks of aging in place may far outweigh the perks. Below are a few considerations to make when considering aging in place.
In early retirement, aging in place may require very few changes to everyday life — but as homeowners age, the need for frequent care and the potential for emergency both increase. A reliable support system can counteract this drawback, but without someone nearby to provide quick medical attention in the event of an emergency, aging at home can be too risky for some.
Further, older adults who are living alone may miss scheduled medication, or wander off and get lost in a state of confusion. In this case, an assisted living facility provides an added layer of security and may be a better option.
Aging in place home modifications may be potentially extensive and costly, but it’s the maintenance and upkeep required to keep a home in working order which may prove to be too involved for some. Without regular maintenance or a home maintenance checklist, your home can quickly fall into disrepair — resulting in even more extensive and costly repairs. A network of helping hands can prevent this, but without a generous support system, your decades-long investment may go unprotected.
For many aging homeowners, aging in place is a cost-effective and freeing alternative to assisted living facilities — but not every older adult will see the same benefits. However, by making the aging in place home modifications outlined above, you can create a safe and comfortable living environment for decades to come. Luckily, a residential leaseback agreement will help you get there. To learn more about how you can enjoy personal and financial freedom well into retirement with our Sale-Leaseback, and for more resources on aging in place, visit our website.
1. Human Rights Watch. US: Concerns of Neglect in Nursing Homes. https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/25/us-concerns-neglect-nursing-homes
2. Where You Live Matters. What Does it Cost. https://www.whereyoulivematters.org/what-does-it-cost/
3. Bob Vila. Standard Door Size 101: Important Measurements All Homeowners Should Know. https://www.bobvila.com/articles/standard-size-for-doors/
4. All About Seniors. Don’t Become A Statistic: How To Prevent Bathroom Slips And Falls. https://www.allaboutseniors.org/dont-become-a-statistic-how-to-prevent-bathroom-slips-and-falls
5. CBS News. Man credits this Apple Watch feature for helping save his father. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/apple-watch-saves-life-hard-fall-apple-watch-series-4-falling-emergency-bob-burdett/
6. Alzheimer’s Project. The Importance of Routine and Familiarity to Persons with Dementia. https://alzheimersproject.org/the-importance-of-routine-and-familiarity-to-persons-with-dementia/