The Ultimate Guide to Aging In Place
Aging in place as been a growing topic of conversation for many people as our population continues to age.
As we discussed in The Changing Housing Needs of Baby Boomers, people are looking ahead to their housing options for retirement and beyond.
This is because throughout adulthood many people may take their independence for granted. The ability to move freely around without assistance from others is something that seems to be assumed will continue.
As people age, that assumed reality may shift, whether it be quickly because of an accident or other injury, or slowing through the natural aging process.
The ability for an individual to live in an existing space may no longer feel realistic for a number of reasons, even if they desire to stay there long-term.
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What is Aging in Place?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as "the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level".
For many people this may mean modifying an existing space to make it work in order to remain in their chosen home. It can also mean allowing for additional services to come into their home to maintain their quality of living.
Why Is It Important To Prepare for Aging in Place?
Preparing to age in place is important for the simple fact that it is guaranteed that if we are lucky enough to be given more time on earth, we will continue to get older. Knowing this fact, it makes sense to assume that what happens for many others, may also happen for to us.
An interesting example would be one from The Journal of Gerontology. They published a study in 2016 that looked at balance and stability as people age. They had individuals from age 30 all the way to over 90 participate. The test subjects were grouped by decade of age (30-39, 40-49, etc.) and the findings were quite interesting. A decrease in the ability to balance was shown to start as early as the 50's and 60's. This means that those in mid-life should be considering concerns of decreases in muscle mass and strength along with balance much earlier. These are important functions as they can greatly impact being able to safely move around independently in one's home. Rather than waiting for an incident to happen in order to react, planning ahead may offer more options and decrease the likelihood of an incident happening at all.
Another important reason to consider aging in place earlier in life is to be able to split up the work. Sometimes many projects will need to happen throughout a home to make it more ideal for remaining there long-term. Planning in advance and dividing these projects up over a longer amount of time can be a more cost-effective option for many people.
Benefits of Aging in Place
For many people the most important benefit of staying in their home is that it the most cost effective option.
In addition finances being positively impacted, many people enjoy staying in a place they are familiar and where they continue to feel independent. Of course, to keep that independence long-term means that some alterations may need to be made for the residence to be safe.
There are benefits to staying in a place with people of all ages as it is the way things are throughout the majority of life. More variety in daily interactions can mean remaining more active and engaged in the overall community as one ages.
Housing Options for Aging in Place
There are three main ways people handle housing to age in place: remaining in their current home, downsizing to a smaller home, or moving in with relatives. All of these options allow some level of independence and money savings versus going into a nursing home or similar facility.
Remaining in a current home and modifying it can be a good option for many people. They may choose to remodel, do an addition or build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). ADU’s or granny flats are a secondary living unit is added to an existing home. It can be in a basement, as an addition, or a completely separate structure like a guesthouse on the property.
Another option for those interested in downsizing is buying a single level home or condominium that is already appropriate for aging in place, or could be remodeled to make it appropriate.
Moving in with children or other family members is also a common option. This can be a mutually beneficially situation where the family can serve to support each other physically and financially.
Remodeling Projects for those planning to Age in Place
If a remodel is the best way to go, then keep in mind that the goal is to increase accessibility and safety for the home’s long-term use.
There are a wide range of project types from large home remodels and additions to smaller adjustments.
Large projects include:
Creating one level living with a main floor master suite and laundry space (learn more here: How to Remodel for One Level Living )
Bathroom remodels creating curbless or easy to step into showers and walk-in tubs (learn more about curbless showers in our article What are Linear Drains… and Why You Will Want One!)
Home additions or accessory dwelling units (ADU)
Smaller adjustment to the space might include:
Changing door handles
Adding grab bars
Adding ramps or railings to entrances and exits
Installing additional lighting and security features
How to Find a Contractor to Remodel for Aging in Place
When the decision has been made to remodel a home in order to age in place, it will be important to start researching the costs and best contractors to complete the work. Keep in mind that this work is also an investment and much like you wouldn’t trust just anyone with your money, you should use the same caution when selecting a contractor. Fast, cheap, and high quality don’t go together, so know what your goals are for the work and plan accordingly.
Places to start your search for contractors would be websites like Angie’s List, Thumbtack, Houzz, and other similar websites that show examples of work and reviews all in one place.
When searching for a contractor, look for the most obvious signs that it is a legitimate business such as a professional website, contractor licensing (as it applies in your state), and online reviews from past customers.
When meeting with contractors, we recommend using our article How To Get An Accurate Estimate for a Home Remodel Project. To have an accurate comparison between estimates, make sure that each contractor is pricing exactly the same thing and including the same items.
Questions to ask a potential contractor would be:
Have you completed similar projects before?
What would be their timeframe to complete the work?
Are you licensed and insured?
Do you do the work yourself or hire subcontractors?
What are your warranties?
Do we sign a written contract?
Do you pull permits for the work to be completed? (Read more about the importance of permits here: How Permits and Inspections Protect You)
If seriously considering a specific contractor, we recommend asking for proof of insurance and past references to contact and verify they would be a good fit for the project.
Options for Affording Age in Place Remodeling Projects
Affording to remodel a home can be a big concern for those planning to age in place. There are options to research in order to find which would be the best fit for your situation.
If building an ADU in an area that allows rentals, additional income can be made from renting out the home while the individual lives in the ADU or vice versa.
Home Equity Loans can be a good option for those who have equity in their homes and are seeking financing for a remodeling project.
Reverse mortgages can be a potential option for those who own their homes and are looking for a way to get money out of their investment without selling.
We recommend speaking with a loan officer or your bank to find the best option for each individual situation.
Downsizing and Decluttering Your Current Space
If the current residence is too large and moving into a smaller space is preferred, downsizing will be the way too go.
We recommend finding a qualified Realtor right away that can explain any preparations needed in order to sell the home. Make a plan to complete those repairs or updates as will work with the timeline and budget.
We find that creating a general rule of thumb for measuring whether or not an item should be kept or not can be very helpful. For us that rule would be: if an item has not been touched or used in the last year, it will be given away, donated, or thrown away.
If have many precious items that are hard to part with but ultimately there won’t be room in the new place, take pictures and store the pictures as memories instead of the actual items.
It can be very helpful to enlist the help of friends and family. Label items that are free for the taking and plan a day for those interested to stop by and make their selections. If the items are not immediately removed that day, plan a day when all items selected must be removed and schedule a pick up from a local charity the following day to remove all leftover items.
If these things seem to overwhelming, there are many companies that can help to organize, clean, or just remove junk as needed.
Useful Services for Aging Adults
Aging in place has many benefits, but staying in a home may mean there is still some amount of home maintenance. In addition, to age in place comfortably, one must have access to a wide variety of services to care for physical and emotional needs as well.
Services that can help those planning to age in place would be:
Outings or social activities at senior centers
Emergency necklaces and buttons
In-home PCA services
Drivers for getting to appointments and shopping
Meal delivery services
Prescription delivery services and in-home nursing services
Lawn and landscaping services
Handyman or other service to do tasks such as changing smoke detector batteries, lightbulbs, furnace filters and other routine maintenance items.