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“Age in Place” or Move?

By Lee Nyberg, 4:45 pm on

“Aging in place” is a big topic for many people 70 years and older, because they have either seen friends with sudden mobility issues wrestle with it or they may be facing a similar decision themselves. People in their early 70’s are the most effected age group because about 75% of those who move into assisted living are 75 years and older, according to the National Council on Assisted Living.

Even though AARP surveys say around 90% of people want to continue living in their own homes as they age, for many, the state of their health and homes won’t allow that without modification to age in place.  Studies on senior housing indicate “44% of the 25 million households of people 65+ years and older have some need for home accessibility features due to disability or difficulty using components of the home without assistance, such as kitchen or bathroom facilities.” (Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University, 7/2/2015).

The Decision

Remodeling a family home is generally cheaper than moving to an independent retirement apartment. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) says most “age in place” changes are in the bathroom, and cost from $6-8,000.  Although less common, changes made to the kitchen are more expensive, with the national average for minimal renovation at $18,500.  Compare this to the annual cost of living for 2 in an independent apartment in a senior community which includes meals and utilities at $42-60,000.  Taxes and other financial considerations aside, the biggest change is the lifestyle difference—one’s own space versus retirement community living.

Some older adults consider buying a new house which has been purpose-built with aging in mind.  Savvy buyers hire a professional care manager to evaluate the home before purchase to make sure it is suitable, such as for people with wheelchairs and other mobility assistive devices.

In either case, as a person’s health declines and daily living support is needed, additional costs will be incurred for various care options, such as in-home care or an assisted living facility.

Questions to Ask Before Home Modification

As with any construction project, goals are critical to satisfaction.  The NAHB suggests considering these points before making changes:

  • Fall prevention is job one; where are the hazards?
  • Add a bathroom and possibly a bedroom to the main level?
  • Need to make the kitchen more functional?
  • Budget? Financing?
  • Will remodeling increase the energy efficiency?

Contractors should be Certified Aging in Place Specialists.  Installing a grab bar isn’t just attaching something to the wall.  The wall has to hold 250 pounds or more.  Likewise, a wheelchair needs a 5’x5’ turnaround space.  That can’t be shoe-horned into an average bathroom and just widening the door and installing a roll-in shower won’t meet the essential need.

Typical Changes

Preventing injury is the key focus of an aging in place renovation.  Top modifications in the recent years are trip hazard removal (e.g. eliminate thresholds), grab bar installation, and slip-resistant bathroom flooring, (Houzz.com).  Here is a short list of the most common changes people make.

  • Install handrails on both sides of all steps, indoors and out
  • Secure carpets and area rugs with double-sided tape or mesh
  • Install easy to grasp “D” shaped handles for drawers and cabinet doors
  • Use brighter light bulbs that don’t produce excessive glare
  • Install night lights
  • Add reflective, nonslip tape on all non-carpeted stairs
  • Install lever handles on all doors

The NAHB has a comprehensive list of modifications: http://www.nahb.org/en/learn/designations/certified-aging-in-place-specialist/related-resources/aging-in-place-remodeling-checklist.aspx

The decision to remodel or move is best as part of an overall financial plan which takes into account lifestyle choices.  Unfortunately, the vagaries of how one’s body will age is the biggest roll of the dice.