What forces older Americans from their homes into assisted living or full-time nursing facilities? It’s not necessarily declining health itself but how certain ailments prevent people from living independently. Some researchers now believe that changes in living spaces and daily strategies can keep older people out of nursing facilities for months or even years, saving families – and, potentially, the nation – millions of dollars. But, for a homeowner contemplating the overall expense of making aging in place improvements, one big question might be: Do the improvements really pay off in the long run?
Aging in place, universal design, age-friendly communities: These concepts are becoming increasingly attractive to today’s baby boomer generation. A 2011 AARP survey revealed that more than half of boomers view aging in place as a major long-term care (LTC) concern and 59 percent strongly support redirecting nursing home funds towards home-based or community-based services instead. As they’ve watched their own parents transition to assisted living or nursing homes, boomers are looking for an alternative that not only helps them retain independence, but also makes good financial sense.
Aging in Place Improvement Cost Analysis
The average cost of nursing home care in the U.S. is $6,700 a month, so even postponing a move to a nursing facility by just a few months can have a major financial impact. The average hospitalization cost for someone over age 65 who has a fall is $15,000. And often, after a fall and/or a lengthy hospital stay, seniors can’t return to their homes because they can’t navigate stairs or the other areas of the home that caused the fall in the first place.
Converting a home with a roll-in tub and a stair lift is cheaper than one month in a nursing home. Not only are aging in place improvements designed to greatly reduce fall risks, they also allow you to take care of yourself safely. What you can do as you age will depend on where you live. If you view your home as a part of your overall long-term healthcare strategy, it’s easy to see that your home is a place worthy of “functional” investment, i.e., an investment in your home that will allow you to maintain more function as you age. What actually puts someone into a LTC institution are the functional consequences of disease, such as not being able to get your leg over the tub or not being able to stand long enough to cook.
Aging in Place Remodeling Checklist
Below are 10 suggestions for updates that are not only good ideas, but they’re also smart investments. These improvements add lasting value to your home, preserve your independence and keep you out of expensive LTC facilities longer. If you have the money and ability, you can do them all at once, but many people prefer to do them sequentially, over a period of a few years.
Does your home have at least one entryway that does not have stairs? Ramps and chairlifts make homes easier to stay in as mobility declines. Also, add grab bars to stairs, tubs and showers.
2. Bathroom Upgrade
Getting in and out of a bathtub and shower combination can be dangerous as seniors’ agility declines. A roll-in tub is an affordable option for converting a tub to a shower. It is designed to help you maintain your independence and bathe with dignity. Also, curbless showers for wheelchair access are an option.
3. Energy Efficiency
Many seniors rely completely on a fixed income and every dollar counts. Save money on electricity and gas, and stay comfortable, when you upgrade to energy-efficient heating and cooling systems as well as appliances. Check attic insulation and upgrade windows with energy efficient replacement windows. The energy cost savings will continue to add up.
Prevent falls (the leading cause of disability in older people) by removing throw rugs, relocating furniture, securing loose wires, using non-skid spray on tile and linoleum floors and maintaining a wide area for movement in hallways and pathways in other rooms. Also, consider whether your hallways and rooms are clear enough for a wheelchair to get through easily.
Dimly lit areas present another fall hazard. As eyesight declines, it’s important to address lighting issues throughout the house, taking extra care that light fixtures have at least two bulbs in vital areas such as the entryway, bathrooms and kitchen. This way, when one bulb burns out, you still have light in that area. Make sure light switches are low enough to easily reach from a wheelchair.
6. Alarm System
Elderly people are often targeted by burglars and a security system can not only help thwart criminals, but provide peace of mind and often make it easier to get emergency services.
7. Door knobs and Cabinets
Arthritis and other conditions make it harder to open doors and cabinets. Replace door knobs and cabinet hardware with levers, which are much easier to grasp.
Getting out of bed or standing up from a sitting position gets harder as we age. The lower the furniture, the harder it is. Installing bed risers, using power seat uplift assists and rising recliners make it easier to get up and down.
9. Door Entry Intercoms
Answering the door can be difficult for those who can’t get up from a sitting position easily, but an intercom allows you to communicate with the person outside the door, and even press a button to let them in, all from where you are sitting.
10. Personal Response System
A lifesaver for seniors who live alone, a personal emergency response system is a lightweight, battery-powered “help” button that is carried by the user. It transmits to a console connected to the user’s telephone. When emergency help is needed, such as medical, fire, or police, the user can press the transmitter’s “help” button, sending a radio signal to the console which then automatically dials one or more emergency telephone numbers.
Later Might Be Too Late
Everyone has a mental checklist of things to change about his or her home, but a common mistake people make is forgetting to include aging-in-place details. The last thing you want to do is wait until a health crisis strikes and it’s impossible to remodel properly, if at all. Starting now gives you the luxury to research and plan everything you want done, before you really need it. You’ll be happier, safer, plus the investment you make so you can age in place will begin to pay off as soon as you make it.