Today more than 70% of people over 45 plan to retire in their current residence. Are we as a nation properly prepared to help aging family members stay in their homes? Do we know what to do to help seniors live independently as long as possible?
Experts say that aging in place technology and services is becoming a $30 billion a year industry. A recent survey of federal and local service providers shows nearly 70% now offer programs to help seniors age in place or find other alternatives to nursing homes or institutional care.
The task of helping elders clearly falls to caregivers. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, in 2015 about 34.2 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older. The majority of caregivers (82%) cared for one other adult, while 15% cared for 2 adults, and 3% for 3 or more adults.
There’s no doubt that people like to be in control of their lives regardless of age, but what’s involved? As we grow older and our motor and physical skills change, reaching and lifting becomes limited. Depth perception is diminished. Hearing lessens. Visual ability weakens, and non-contrasting colors become difficult to see. We need assistance with many activities, yet still want to maintain some control and independence.
Falls are the cause of one-half of all accidental deaths in the home. The majority of these at-home falls occur in the bathroom, and the risk of falling increases with age.
The good news is that with proper planning, a “forever home” with “smart rooms” can be created that enables seniors to age in place more safely. Caregivers can help parents or other aging family members to modify a home and create a “smart house” that takes advantage of technology and innovative products to prevent falls, facilitate ease of movement and simply improve functionality.
Here are some of the current design trends that help today’s seniors to remain in their homes as they age:
- One floor living with clear movement in the living space. It is desirable that there are no steps to climb for bedrooms, living areas or garage entry.
- Step-free entry into the house from the garage and front door. It might mean that a ramp will be needed. An awning or cover over the door is preferred.
- Maintenance free dwellings. Little or no outside work, living spaces that are easy to clean, and newer appliances.
- More storage especially in the kitchen that is more accessible. High cabinets that are difficult to reach are undesirable.
- Appliances that are placed at comfortable heights to avoid bending over.
- Drawers instead of cabinets which are easier to access.
- Cabinet hardware that allows doors to hide away while in use.
- Tall knee-height counters in the bathroom to allow sitting down for tasks.
- Raised toilet seats
- No threshold showers that allow open access
As a result of these trends, contractors are being called on to provide: access ramps instead of entry steps, widened doorways, handrails, easy-entry shower stalls to replace bathtubs, plus elevators and chair lifts. Other fixes are easier to make and less costly, including adding lights and installing raised-height appliances.
Keeping in mind that housing in an Assisted Living Facility can cost $65,000 a year or more, it can be less costly to invest in remodeling. Here are the three main categories of modifications that are possible, starting with the least expensive “fixes” and some that don’t necessarily involve contractors:
- Fall prevention: changing rugs, installing grab bars and good lighting.
- Entryway and ease of movement: stair reduction, wider stairs, hand rails and flat pathways to the bathroom and bedroom, without steps.
- Remodeling and New Equipment: barrier-free showers, rising-wall tubs, comfort height toilets, a seated, multi-level food preparation area and a backup power supply.
Help is always available in deciding what the best options are to alter a bathroom, kitchen or an entire home and what can be done to transform a house into a “forever home.” A Certified Aging Place Specialist can provide a complete assessment and recommend licensed professionals who offer the desired products and services.
Wanda E. Gozdz, B.S., A.S., is founder and president of Golden Age Living, LLC, (GAL) Deerfield Beach, Florida, a consulting and interior design company. She is a consultant, residential interior designer, author, an accomplished educator and speaker and an award-winning advocate for seniors. Her goal is twofold: to inform consumers as they age on how to adapt their homes to their changing lifestyles and to educate professionals who serve the senior market on how to help clients and their families to “age in place.”