Although the vast majority of Americans (about 90 percent over age 65) want to stay in their homes to live out their golden years, unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. As time marches on and we age, homes that were perfectly functional to us can pose obstacles later on as our abilities decline.
Think about when you were young and could bound up and down the stairs. As you age, those steps get harder to navigate and you may eventually need railings on both sides to help you slowly climb up and down them. Also, about 66 percent of the homes in the U.S. were built before 1980 and 40 percent were built before 1970, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These older homes were not built for the accessibility of an older adult. The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies reports that fewer than 7 percent of American homes have safety and accessibility features needed for aging in place. What’s more, the average life expectancy since 1970 has grown from 70.36 to 79.05 years. That means people are more likely to be living with diminished physical and cognitive abilities.
Anyone who has lived through a home renovation understands it takes time, money, and stamina to complete the project. But when a person who is older gets sick or injured, it is not the time to embark on home modifications. Sadly, when a home is not set up to accommodate an aging individual, that person will have to leave that home — a situation that could have been avoided with proper planning.
It’s not just the physical aspect of living in our homes to consider. It’s also what help we might need as we lose some of our physical and cognitive abilities due to aging.
Clients need to think about and plan for all that’s required to remain independent in their homes during this life stage.
Called interdependence, it’s the period between complete independence and dependent living. This is when we can still live a full life on our own but may need assistance with tasks such as administrative, organizational, or even home maintenance. It’s the time of life most people don’t think about planning for but could make all the difference in keeping them in their home for the long term.
Talk to your clients about their plan for aging in place.
For your clients who are thinking about aging in place, there are three major considerations:
- How Safe and Accessible Is Their Home: This means anticipating some of the needs they’d have 5-, 10- or even 20-plus years down the road. The client or a hired professional need to clear any clutter and inspect all entryways, rooms, including bathrooms, steps, and handrails, along with the lighting to make sure it’s safe. If it’s not, how will they make modifications to it to make sure it’s accessible for them? They need to think about modifications they can make now as well as in the future. For example, can they fit a walker or a wheelchair through the doorways? Can handrails be installed? How is the lighting? Are rugs secure? What about door handles? Are they easy to open? Do they have a traditional bathtub or an easier-to-access shower?
- Knowing When to Relinquish Responsibilities: As a person gets older, they might not be able to do the housecleaning and outdoor maintenance (gutter cleaning, snow shoveling, painting, etc.) as well as driving, shopping or even basic activities of daily living — like dressing and cooking — that they used to do. Sometimes it’s not easy to ask for help but it’s imperative to have a plan for who will handle these tasks and when that might happen. Will it be a family member, a friend or a professional? At what point will the client know it’s time to call them in to help?
- Understanding the Costs to Staying: Clients need to consider all of the costs – home modifications, home maintenance, utilities, as well as the costs to ensure their physical and emotional health and any extra care that they might require to stay in their home. This includes the services that will fill the role as they relinquish responsibilities for certain tasks.
Having a safe and accessible home enables clients to carry out their wishes of aging in place. Help your clients attain their goals by encouraging them to plan.
Life Managers & Associates supports older individuals as a surrogate family member with the administrative and organizational responsibilities required to age in place. As a trusted member of their team, we help families feel safe and supported – alleviating stress for all.