As we age, our abilities generally change, yet our homes are often incompatible with our changing needs. Nevertheless, nearly two-thirds of adults aged 50 and older say they want to remain in their current homes and communities for as long as possible as they age. Home modifications, in-home services, technology, and other tools can help make that a real possibility for many people. Given the right supports, most of us can remain in our homes and communities throughout our lives.
The range of care and support that will be needed for “aging in place” varies greatly. Some people need very little help well into their 90’s. Others need a great deal of support at a much younger age. The majority of people do stay either in their own homes or in a relative’s home as they age. The key is to plan ahead as much as possible, be adaptable, and be open to receiving support in new ways.
Consider these issues and adjustments when planning to remain in your home and community as you age:
- Home Safety and Modifications. Safety concerns are often the reason people leave their homes, so evaluate current abilities and think about how needs may change in the future. Make modifications before they are needed. The idea is to prevent accidents, not deal with them after they happen. Address these key safety factors:
- Improving the lighting in all areas inside and outside the home.
- Removing throw rugs, long electric cords, pet toys, and other fall hazards.
- Rearranging or removing furniture to prevent falls.
- Installing hand railings on both sides at stairs.
- Setting up ramps for entering and exiting the home.
- Ensuring bathroom safety with grab bars, curbless (or “zero threshold”) showers, shower chairs, raised toilet seats, openings under a sink for seated use, non-slip flooring, etc.
- Using space in new ways, such as moving the laundry and bedroom to the main level to avoid stairs.
(You’ll find a list of resources at the end of this article with full checklists for home safety and modifications.)
- Transportation and Socialization. If health conditions limit our ability to drive and engage in activities, see family and friends, and get to doctor appointments, isolation can become a serious problem. In fact, isolation is as bad for our physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse than obesity. Determine how you will realistically get around, such as rides with family and friends, faith community members, senior ride services, rideshares, taxis, etc.
- Care at Home. Family members or friends may provide some of your care, but often in intensive care situations, paid help is needed. Contact the local area agency on aging and ask about in-home services (e.g., housekeeping, chores, yard work, personal care, meals, medication reminders, friendly visitors, etc.). Look into mobile doctors, laboratory tests, x-rays, and therapy services in your area (these services made it so much easier to care for my parents at home).
- Technology. New technologies are helping us stay safe at home. Medical alert devices help us call for help when needed, and automatic fall detection enables technology devices to call for help when we can’t. Video cameras help us communicate with loved ones or monitor safety. Motion sensor lights come on when it gets dark, or if we lose power. Door, bed, and chair alarms notify us if a door is opened or a loved one is on the move. If you don’t feel confident about using technology, there are many online training videos to help, technology setup services, and many companies have phone support. I urge you to take the plunge to make life easier and safer. If it means staying safe at home, it’s worth trying something new!
- Finances. All of these options can make it possible to stay at home, however, most are not free. Look into transportation and in-home services that are no- or low-cost or are offered on a sliding fee scale. Find out if a local organization has donated technology or medical equipment, and look for free trials, coupons, or discounts. If you or a loved one are eligible for Medicaid, find out if your area has a Medicaid waiver for in-home services. If you are a veteran, look into home modification grants, in-home services, medical equipment, and medications from Veterans Affairs. And of course, work with your financial planner to save for the expenses of aging in place.
Planning for, and implementing, these adjustments now can help make it possible for you to stay in your home in the future. Changes may be incremental, and some can be made as needed, but always keep in mind the goal is to prevent accidents and health crises before they happen. You might think about taking these steps as “insurance” to help you remain as independent as possible for as long as possible in your home.
Amy Goyer is a caregiving expert and author of Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving. A passionate champion for caregivers, she has also been one her entire adult life, caring for her grandparents, parents, sister, and others. Connect with Amy on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
- Homefit Guide – a room-by-room guide to making your home safe as you age. AARP.
- The Apartment: A Guide to Creating a Dementia-Friendly Home – a guide to making adjustments in the home for people living with dementia. The Alzheimer’s Foundation.
- Aging at Home: A Guide for Home Improvements – a guide to both simple and more complex home modifications to make homes safe and comfortable for those of all ages and abilities. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.