By 2020, there will be some 55 million people over age 65 in the United States. And, according to AARP, the vast majority, some 87% plan to remain in their own homes indefinitely to “age in place.” Unfortunately, according to a survey by Home Instead, 85% of seniors have done nothing to prepare their homes for aging.
If you’re thinking of remaining in your home, you have to face the fact that the home you have come to love will never love you back. And, in time, it can become your enemy. There are inherent dangers for seniors who live alone. What’s more, you run the risk of aging in place becoming “stuck in place.”
If you’re determined to remain in your home, however, it’s important for you to create a plan—just as you may have made a plan on where to go to school, where to work and where to live. By working with specialists, you can prevent unexpected events from turning into crises. And prevent crises from compromising your ability to live independently.
To do that, you may want to take an extremely critical look at your current home as you plan for the future. Is it truly a place where you can age in place, or are there potential hazards and hurdles to overcome should your mobility become seriously impaired?
For starters, ask yourself these questions:
- Is your home one, two or more stories?
- Does your home have any steps or thresholds?
- Would your bathroom allow a wheelchair to actually fit through the door and then leave you enough room to close the door behind you and maneuver around?
- Do you have a tub that would require stepping over the side to gain entry—or do you have a flat, roll-in shower?
- In the kitchen, would the microwave even be within reach—or is it mounted above the stove?
Don’t be surprised at what you find. A recent article by Rodney Harrell of AARP in The Washington Post reports that just one percent of homes are conducive to seniors remaining at home.
Fortunately, if your home isn’t presently suitable for aging-in-place, there are a number of services that exist to help make it possible:
1. Senior Real Estate Specialists®
It may sound counter-intuitive that a realtor can help you age in place
However, if you determine that your current home isn’t the one in which you’ll be able to age gracefully, the National Association of Realtors® offers an official designation of Senior Real Estate Specialist® (SRES) to those Realtors who are specifically trained to meet the needs of home buyers and sellers age 50+.
Their special skill set allows them to help you look at the big picture, factoring in financial issues, as well as current and potential care needs to ensure that you arrive at the best decision about selling and buying a property. This can include such things that you might not otherwise consider such as:
- Proximity to neighbors.
- Access to public transportation.
- Access to physicians, stores, libraries, and other resources.
What’s more, they generally have a wealth of professional connections to put you in touch with a wide range of other professionals to help make your transition as smooth as possible.
2. Senior Moving and “Right-Sizing” Specialists
After reviewing the suitability of your current home to age in place, you may well discover that:
- It won’t allow you to age gracefully and that you will need to move.
- It won’t allow you to age gracefully, but realize that moving may not be the best decision due to personal choice, location, existing real estate market, your own financial considerations or other reasons.
- Your home is really much larger than you need or use and that it would be best to downsize, move to a home that is the right size and take the money to invest it or meet current financial needs.
Either way, help is available through the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) and Certified Relocation & Transition SpecialistsTM (CRTS), as well as the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) in conjunction with AARP.
Should you decide to move . . .
Both NASMM and CRTS offers experienced professionals who can:
- Provide a home assessment to determine your needs.
- Establish transition plans or timetables.
- Coordinate resources.
- Perform or supervise:
- Sorting & Organizing
- Estate Liquidation
- Packing, Shipping, and Moving
- Interior Design
Should you decide to remain in your home to make it more accessible. . .
NASMM offers a program called NASMM@HOME which can help you:
- Define your vision by helping you prioritize what areas need work.
- Create a floor plan to repurpose your existing space.
- Evaluate what you want to keep in your home.
- Decide what should be donated, sold or discarded and execute your wishes.
- Determine your future needs and simplify your lifestyle.
- Explore home care maintenance concerns.
- Reduce home safety concerns and eliminate common in-home hazards.
Whether you hire a professional company such as those found through The American Society of Estate Liquidators to help you declutter your home, enlist the family or do it all by yourself, the fact is that it will eventually have to be done—whether that is by you or your estate. Isn’t it better if you make the decisions on how to downsize a lifetime of possessions?
By choosing to do de-clutter your house now, you:
- Make your home easier to access should you become mobility impaired.
- Give yourself less to clean and maintain.
- Have the choice of determining what should go and what should stay.
- Determine what should be thrown out, what should be donated and what can be sold.
- Can make personal gifts of treasured items, knowing where they will end up
- Prevent division among over the distribution or disposal of possessions you have acquired over a lifetime.
- Avoid any embarrassing situations over anything you may have acquired that you really wouldn’t want anyone else to see and forever associate with you.
To start decluttering, Sara Getzkin, President of Hands On! Organizing had some tips for Senior Planet:
- Don’t try to take on too much at once. Carve out three hours or so in a day. It’s a manageable amount and it will allow you to begin again the next day with both a sense of accomplishment and feeling refreshed.
- Start by preparing three large bags or boxes. Label them “Toss,” “Sell” and “Donate.” Then be ruthless in your decision-making. What remains is what you keep.
- Do a Google search for local consignment stores and thrift shops where you can sell and donate your unwanted items.
Paul Foreman, the creator of Mind Maps, outlined one of the biggest challenges you’ll encounter. “As you move up a gear in de-cluttering you may hit some tough questions and need to battle some gremlins,” he writes.
“Are you hanging on to the past? Do you need to move on? Whether you spend 20 years, 2 years, 2 months or 2 minutes the end result is the same – you have to let go. Deep down you know this – holding on, is simply delaying the inevitable.”
Finally, if you’re planning to “gift” a “treasured” family heirloom, it’s important to honestly look at it before you do so. Did you really ever want it in the first place or did you just take it on as a family obligation?
If you answered “no” to the former and “yes” to the latter, chances are your family may feel the same way. Think before forcing them to live under what author Joyce Wadler refers to as “The Tyranny of the Heirloom” or try to understand why they don’t smile when you offer them what author Richard Eisenberg calls, “The Stuff of Nightmares.”
5. Home Preparation
While your home may be de-cluttered and cleaned, that doesn’t mean it’s completely ready for you to age in place. There are a number of things you’ll still want to consider before considering your home “senior-friendly” and eliminate things that can contribute to a fall.
Things you can do to make your home more accessible
To make your home truly accessible, you’ll want to take a hard look at all interior, exterior, garage and parking areas of your home.
Put yourself at ease. Pull up a chair. Sit down with a pad and paper. Relax. Then determine what you can and can’t do from your chair.
- If you can’t reach it now, you may not be able to reach it in the future.
- If you can’t get into it safely now, you may not be able to do so down the road tomorrow.
- If you can’t scoot up to it now close enough to use it safely, it won’t be any safer later.
- If stairs or steps look as insurmountable as Everest . . . well, you get the idea.
Should you need additional guidance on what can be done, Age In Place has a number of suggestions to inspire you and take control of your home.
Things a professional can assist you within your home
If you’d like professional guidance on how to make your home more accessible, AARP, in collaboration with The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), has also developed Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS). CAPS designees are often remodelers, but designers, occupational therapists, architects, and others may also have this designation. They can:
- Recommend updates that will help you live independently in your own home.
- Work with an occupational therapist to develop a home modification or build a plan based on your safety and functional needs.
- Collaborate with a licensed contractor or interior designer about building and design strategies and techniques for creating attractive, barrier-free living spaces.
- Provide information about building codes and standards, useful products and resources, and the costs and time required for common remodeling projects.
To find a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist, call the NAHB at 800-368-5242 or visit nahb.org and search for “Find a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist” to locate a professional in your area with the CAPS designation.
Everyone is familiar with wheelchairs and walkers to help the mobility impaired. But did you know that there are hundreds of different non-medical items to help seniors more easily adapt to their home environment? These include:
- Suction devices to help hold a pot in place on the stove so that it may be easier stirred by one hand.
- Gyroscopic self-stabilizing eating utensils that offset 85% of unwanted hand tremors.
- Easy-grip ergonomic, long-reach garden hand tools to allow home gardeners to work in a seated position without having to bend over.
If you have a need now or if you develop one, chances are someone else has it, as well. The chances are even better than someone else is already working on an adaptive technology or already offers the solution through sites such as TheWrightStuff, ElderStore or ParentGiving.
Emergency Pendants and Monitoring
No matter how safe you may feel in our own homes, there is always the risk of a slip, trip or fall. That’s why, particularly if you’re planning to age in place alone, that an emergency medical alert system or monitoring system may be a good idea.
Unlike older systems, tied to a landline phone, today’s medical alert systems offer options that are cellular, work on mobile devices or even a smartphone app. They’re GPS enabled and they can let emergency responders know where you are—inside or outside.
Companies such as GrandCare, MyTruSense, SilverLink, and Wellness also offer easy-to-use, interactive touchscreens that can provide activity and health monitoring, medication prompts, as well as easy communication to family and physicians.
5. Reverse Mortgages
If you decide to remain in your home but find that you will need additional assets to either modify it and/or pay for health care or in-home care, it just may be possible that you already have those assets—in your existing home. This is possible by taking out a reverse mortgage.
Simply put, a reverse mortgage is a type of home equity loan reserved for homeowners over age 62 who own their home outright or have a small mortgage. A reverse mortgage does not require monthly mortgage payments. Instead, it pays the homeowner either a lump sum or a monthly payment instead based on a percentage of the home equity.
The loan balance, which is never more than the value of the home, does not have to be repaid until the borrower, moves out, sells the home or passes away. If the balance is less than the value of your home at the time of repayment, you or your heirs keep the difference.
According to Bankrate.com, there are both pros and cons to a reverse mortgage.
- Does not require monthly payments from the borrower.
- Proceeds can be used to pay off debt or settle unexpected expenses.
- The money can pay off the existing mortgage.
- Funds can improve monthly cash flow.
- Fees and other closing costs can be high.
- The borrower must maintain the house an pay property taxes and homeowners insurance.
- A reverse mortgage can complicate one’s wish to keep the house in the family.
Interested in applying for a Reverse Mortgage?
Most larger banks and credit unions offer reverse mortgages. Before applying for a reverse mortgage, however, homeowners are required to receive mandatory, free financial counseling through an independent third party approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development at (800) 569-4287 or through a national counseling agency such as AARP.
6. Pet Services
Often, a pet may be the only “family member” a senior has. More than just companionship, they help to decrease isolation and loneliness, encourage routine and offer a number of health benefits.
If you’re considering aging in place in your own home, however, you also have to consider the needs of the pet that is aging along with you.
Will their needs be met should your mobility or your finances become compromised—or could they actually be compromising your mobility and finances? There are a number of things you’ll need to consider:
While pets such as cats, birds or reptiles require little in the way of an exercise routine, dogs are different. And the larger the dog, the more room and exercise it will require.
Before you need help with their daily walks, you may want to talk with a younger family member or look into area dog-walking services. Your veterinarian, local senior center or websites such as Craigslist can help you find local options.
You may have no plans whatsoever to ever leave your pet alone. Life happens, however. Do you have plans in place for your beloved pet should you have a health crisis? What if that crisis arises over a holiday when local boarding options are full?
It’s best to look into local options with your veterinarian in advance. And talk with friends or family about a back-up plan.
Your Pet’s Health
Do you have the financial resources should your pet have a health crisis? What if it becomes a chronic condition that will require ongoing care or medication?
Being prepared is better than being caught with an empty wallet. You might want to explore options such as pet health insurance. ConsumersAdvocate.org offers reviews and costs.
You shouldn’t have to choose between feeding your pet and feeding yourself. There is help available should you or a loved one find yourself in that situation.
Local animal shelters may provide a temporary option, as well, as some maintain a pet food bank.
If you find that your finances have become overwhelming and you’re having trouble affording your pet, don’t give up hope—or your pet—just yet.
BestFriends.org offers a comprehensive list of resources offering financial assistance for senior citizens who are struggling with the cost of a pet.
The Humane Society of the United States also offers a list of national and local options that offer free pet food, prescription medications, low-cost spay/neuter services, and temporary foster care.
Your Own Health
Although you may love your pet dearly, please be aware that more than 80,000 people visit the hospital each year as the result of a fall caused by a pet.
If you have a dog that bolts unexpectedly when you’re holding onto the other end of the leash or jumps up on you to greet you, you might want to reevaluate your situation, look into obedience training and/or relocate them to the home of friends or family.
7. Aging Life Care ManagersTM
Should you decide to age in place in your current home and even have it squared away for maximum livability for years to come, you still may eventually find that you need assistance in managing the day-to-day challenges of growing older. That is when Aging Life Care ManagersTM can act as guides and advocates to encourage your independence and help you attain your maximum potential.
According to the Aging Life Care Association®, Certified Aging Life Care ManagersTM can help you and/or your family members with:
- Health and Disability. From physical problems to mental health and dementia-related problems, Aging Life Care Managers™ interact with the health care system effectively and frequently. Aging Life Care Professionals attend doctor appointments and facilitate communication between doctor, client, and family. These professionals help determine types of services – including home health and hospice – that are right for a client and assist in engaging and monitoring those services.
- Financial. Services may include reviewing or overseeing bill paying or consulting with a client’s accountant or Power of Attorney. Aging Life Care Professionals provide information on Federal and state entitlements, connecting families to local programs when appropriate. They also help clients and families with insurance concerns, claims, and applications.
- Housing. Aging Life Care Professionals help families and clients evaluate and select the appropriate level of housing or residential options.
- Families. Aging Life Care Professionals help families adjust, cope and problem-solve around long-distance and in-home caregiving, addressing care concerns, internal conflicts and differences of opinion about long-term care planning.
- Local Resources. Aging Life Care Professionals know the local resources in their communities like the back of their hands and know how services are accessed.
- Advocacy. Aging Life Care Professionals are strong and effective advocates for clients and their families, promoting the client’s wishes with health care and other providers, ensuring that client’s needs are being adequately addressed.
- Legal. Aging Life Care Professionals refer to legal experts, like elder law attorneys, estate planners, and Powers of Attorney. Some Aging Life Care Professionals provide expert opinion for courts in determining the level of care and establishing client needs.
- Crisis Intervention. Aging Life Care Professionals offer crisis intervention when it is needed, helping clients navigate through emergency departments and hospitalizations, rehabilitation stays and ensuring that adequate care is available to the client. For families that live at a distance, this can be a much-needed 24/7 emergency contact.
As you look to begin your own journey down the gray mile, it is possible to age in place in your own home. However, before you take your first steps to do so, you have to take a number of steps to ensure your home is safe. And the sooner you begin doing it, the better prepared you will be when life happens.