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Renovating with independence in mind

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Most Americans settle in a home, envisioning a permanent life refuge. Achieving this vision of aging in place, though, means preparing the home now to anticipate future needs. Doing so successfully can allow older adults to remain independent, autonomous and in charge of their home security as they age.

As many as 94% of today’s older adults (defined as ages 65+) wish to stay in their own homes as long as possible. This group, as of 2010, accounted for 13% of the population (40 million people), and that number is projected to increase to 20% of the population by 2030.

Studies show there are numerous benefits to home-based aging, such as increased life satisfaction, quality of life and self-esteem. Maintaining familiar surroundings and connections is also a benefit, allowing older adults to remain close to friends and neighbors, keep the same doctors and visit favorite coffee shops and grocery stores.

The time is now to start planning for down-the-road needs, like modifying your home to accommodate future accessibility needs, home security and even live-in care. It is important to understand the appropriate renovations that may be required and to equip the home with modifications that are right for you and any caretakers providing attention as you age in place.

What you should know about designing a home while aging in place

Studies confirm there are benefits to keeping older adults in their homes longer, such as maintaining more independence and connection to friends and family, as well as avoiding the high costs of institutional care. Luckily, there are many options, services and helpful solutions available to help us stay independent as we age at home.

Basic home renovations

Improve lighting

Improving the lighting in the home is an inexpensive solution that can provide an increased sense of safety and security for older adults — safeguarding against stumbling and falling, as well as break-ins. Consider adding lighting strips to stairways and other dark areas inside the home, as well as installing exterior lights that can be programmed to turn on and off, creating a pattern to deter break-ins. Nightlights are also a recommended addition — great for hallways, bathrooms and on or near steps.

Add easy-use fixtures and safety considerations

These simple home modifications are easy to implement and can have a significant impact on improving security and comfort in the home as we age:

  • Install oversized light switches ($6 to $28)
  • Replace faucet knobs with levers ($22 to $400)
  • Use automated garage door openers ($128 to $250)
  • Purchase larger digital display options for remote controls, phones, and screens ($7 to $545)
  • Add grab bars or rails around the home to prevent falls and improve mobility ($14 to $100)
  • Consider chair and toilet lifts ($18 – $100)
  • Use cord covers to prevent tripping and falling ($10 to $50)

Update your flooring

Falls are prevalent as we age in what should be our safest environment: our home. And flooring is often the biggest culprit. Loose rugs, slip-inducing mats, and curly edges on carpets are among the most common dangers. Many preventive measures are easy, DIY and often relatively inexpensive. Here’s what you need to do:

    1. Secure rugs throughout the home: Use double-faced, anti-slip rug tape to secure the edges of all area rugs firmly to the floor. Or consider using an underneath rug pad, with options adhering to vinyl, hardwood and other flooring. In the bathroom, use bathmats with a good, surface-gripping backing.
    2. Install anti-slip flooring throughout the home: Ensuring the type of flooring installed in the home (and especially in the bathroom) isn’t slippery is an important consideration for older adults. Some anti-slip flooring options include vinyl, ceramic tiles, and even bamboo.
    3. Contrast for visibility while moving throughout the home: Consider varying the colors and textures of the flooring used throughout the home to provide better visual guidance, especially in transitional areas in the home, such as a sunken living room.

Advanced home renovations

Sophisticated upgrades to help current and future home healthcare needs not only add protections, they often heighten future selling prices. Keep in mind for some of these more advanced home modification tips, outsourcing to a professional may be necessary.

Assistive renovations

Widen your doorways: Even just carrying packages can make doorways impassable, so imagine providing adequate space for assistive devices like wheelchairs. To meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility standards, doorways should be at least 36 inches wide.

Add a stairlift: Unless you’re enjoying single-story living (or unless you have a downstairs bedroom and bath), many people need to navigate stairs in the home. In these cases, stairlifts are a great tool.

Keeping the home secure

Home security systems are an essential tool for being alerted to dangers you may not sense, like fire, carbon monoxide and break-ins. And these tools become even more critical for older adults. According to the National Fire Protection Association, people ages 65+ are twice as likely to be injured or killed by house fires, compared to the rest of the population.

For outside the home, consider installing security cameras, which can allow loved ones to monitor fall-prone areas around the home. 

Assistive technology

There is a lot of assistive technology available today, including devices, software programs and equipment that’s specifically designed to help people work around their challenges — from arthritis-friendly light switches and easier-to-grip drawer pulls, to computer voice recognition programs, entryway ramps and more. Here are a few assistive devices for you to consider when updating your home for current or future assistive needs:

  • Clap-detection lights: Turning on lights with the clap of your hands makes turning lights on/off much easier. Plus, set the device in its “away” mode, and your lights will turn on with the detection of any sound, which can deter break-ins.
  • Smart entryway: Assistive tools like key finders, keyless doors and doorbell cameras make entering the home and monitoring activity at the front door easier. Learning who is at the front door from the safety of your couch reduces the need for unnecessary movement around the home, which can also prevent accidents and falls. 
  • Home hub automation: Smart home options are now available to provide a one-stop solution for controlling your digital life at home, from programmable temperature controls and sophisticated home security systems to playing music and helping you keep track of appointments. For example, Amazon’s Alexa allows users to easily keep track of daily activities, call their doctor and even order food. And home hub security systems can offer older adults a greater sense of control over the safety of their home and valuables, all from the leisure of their couch.

Why designing with in-home care in mind is a good idea

Considering the high costs of long term care options in the U.S., it’s not surprising people are turning to alternative solutions. Although costs vary by state, let’s take a look at the average monthly costs of some of the more common long-term care options available:

  • A private nursing home room: $8,364 per month
  • A semi-private nursing home room: $7,362 per month
  • Assisted living facility: $3,862 per month
  • Adult day health care: $1,562 per month

To avoid these costs, and if in-home care is your goal, it’s important to start making plans now — so you’re not managing last-minute renovations and home modifications to accommodate the needs of caretakers at the same time your health takes a turn. 

Some of the in-home care services you may need to consider planning for include health care aides, registered nurses, physical therapists, social workers and other specialists that make home visits. Your in-home caregiver might also be a companion or a loved one. Regardless of who is providing the care, it’s important to ensure your home is ready, so you can more easily adapt should the need arise.

Renovating your home for the future

When renovating your home, it’s important to keep future health challenges in mind, and the possibility of needing in-home care. Understanding your needs — and the needs of others potentially sharing your space — will create a more harmonious and comfortable environment while aging in place.

Creating a bedroom on the main floor of the home is ideal — allowing for easier accessibility throughout the home. In addition to reducing the use of stairs, main floors also provide faster exits to safety in case of emergencies — like injuries, break-ins or fires.

To accommodate live-in care, or for having loved ones stay, a separate bedroom is an essential consideration. Make sure the room has easy access to a bathroom, and even consider installing a small kitchen. 

You’ll also want to equip your home for caregiver accessibility, including:

  • Installing smart locks, so people who take care of you always have access to the home.
  • Ensuring caregivers have access to WiFi, so they’re connected in the event of an emergency, or to purchase necessary items online.
  • Providing caregivers access to security systems, so they can help monitor the home in an emergency.
  • Adding more electrical outlets in the home, in case there is medical equipment to set up in the future.
  • Creating wider doorways and entryways for wheelchairs, as well as ramps for wheelchair accessibility.

Financial assistance for home modifications

Paying for Senior Care outlines four sources of assistance available for those needing to make home modifications to accommodate the needs of older adults and of those with disabilities, including financial loans, grants, labor and equipment loans:

Four types of assistance for home modifications

    1. Low-interest loans: Some organizations, mainly governmental, offer low-interest loans for home modifications or guarantee loans so banks are less restrictive with their lending requirements. Since these are loans, they do need to be paid back.
    2. Home improvement grants: These (usually one-time) grants are available for a specific home modification purpose, and do not need to be repaid.
    3. Free labor: Another form of assistance is free labor to make home improvements. This is commonly offered by non-profit organizations or charities. Materials are not covered. The building of a wheelchair ramp is a common example.
    4. Equipment loans: Some organizations make free, long-term loans of home modification materials. As an example, a portable wheelchair ramp that does not need to be returned until the borrower moves from their home or no longer requires the use of it.

Options for financial planning

There are also several programs and other assistance programs available for qualified individuals to take advantage of to help with home modifications for the purpose of keeping older adults at home longer. Some of the most notable options are:

    1. Medicare Advantage: Beginning in 2019, Medicare Advantage (MA) plans now include benefits for home modifications, such as assisting with the addition of grab bars, stairlifts, and wheelchair ramps in the home
    2. Medicaid HCBS Waivers and Home Modifications: Most states have Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waivers, which help qualified individuals stay at home and receive in-home care and assistance with home modifications. Each state offers different programs with different eligibility requirements and benefits. 
    3. Veterans Programs for Home Modifications: The Veterans Administration (VA) offers grants, including Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grants, Special Housing Adaptation (SHA) Grants and Home Improvement and Structural Alteration (HISA) Grants, to help veterans remain in their homes longer.
    4. Non-Medicaid Government Assistance for Home Modification: The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers HUD Home Improvement Loans, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers Rural Repair and Rehabilitation Grants. Additionally, quite a few states offer various assistance programs that are referred to as “nursing home diversion programs,” and some of these programs offer home modification as a benefit. Review this list of state assistance programs that offer home modification benefits to see if there’s a program available for you.
    5. Non-Profit and Foundation Assistance for Home Modifications: Many non-profits and organizations (such as Rebuilding Together) offer financial aid and volunteer labor to help older adults remain in their homes. Another option is finding local, volunteer community resources and projects that may help assist with home modifications.

Set your sights on home sweet home…forever

People are living longer and the percentage of older adults in the U.S. is on the rise. This means there is an increased demand for long-term care solutions. The good news is remaining independent and autonomous in the home you know and love as you age is possible. With the right planning and assistance, older adults can easily make modifications to the home — such as updating the lighting in the home, taking advantage of assistive technologies and even renovating the home to accommodate live-in care. Make these changes now and create a comfortable and safe space that you can continue to call home…forever.

Author Bio

Wendy Meyeroff, a plain language expert in B2B and B2C health/tech communications, has helped clients across the U.S. for 20+ years with journalism and marketing materials. Wendy has a specialty: writing for and about boomers, and mentoring outreach to ages 50+.

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