JOANNE THEUNISSEN WAS talking on the phone in the front yard of her remodeling company’s latest project. “I hope the hammering in the background isn’t too loud,” Theunissen said. “We have a full crew here: framers, electricians, and the plumber is just pulling in.”
Theunissen is the remodelers chair of the National Association of Home Builders and also the co-owner of Howling Hammer Builders in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She and her team have been busy transforming the two-story home of a couple who want to age in place. “They’re tired of the stairs, so we’re adding on a first-floor master bedroom, closet and bathroom,” Theunissen explains.
These kinds of jobs are big business for remodelers. Since last year, the NAHB has seen a 30 percent increase in the amount of its members seeking special training to help older clients who want to stay in their homes for as long as possible. Remodeling a house is just one way to make that happen.
What Is Aging in Place?
The goal of aging in place is avoiding the move to an assisted living facility or nursing home. “It may be that you stay in your existing house or maybe you move from a multilevel home to a one-level home or an apartment,” explains Marty Bell, executive director of the not-for-profit National Aging in Place Council. He also points to a trend in granny houses (small houses built in the backyards of adult children’s homes) and micro-unit housing (small studio apartments in buildings with common living rooms and kitchens).
Which option is best, and how do you know which one to choose?
There are many considerations:
The National Aging in Place Council offers a free tool on its website to help guide you through the decision-making process.
A home that checks off all the boxes may still need to be adapted to your physical needs. That may be as simple as moving kitchen supplies from upper to lower cabinets if arthritis makes it painful to reach for something, installing grab bars and floor treads to avoid falling in slippery bathrooms or buying a metal ramp to place over a step down to a sunken living room.
Sometimes changes may require the services of a contractor who can switch out bathtubs for walk-in showers, widen doorways for wheelchairs and walkers or even build an addition onto your home.
To find a contractor who’ll understand an older person’s needs, Theunissen suggests asking your physical or occupational therapist for a recommendation or contacting your local homebuilders association. “Look for licensed remodelers on your state website. And don’t just get one bid. Get several, and really interview them,” Theunissen adds.
[See: 7 Surprising Things That Age You.]
Making It Work
Once you’ve decided where you’re going to live for the long term, you may want to use strategies and services that can help you maintain independence long into your golden years.
Harris says it’s not enough to adapt a home to your physical needs and arrange for services that allow you to stay there. She points out that you still need to work at remaining independent. That includes going to doctor appointments, managing chronic conditions, eating a healthy diet, exercising and socializing. “Social isolation is profound among older adults. As a result, they may not get to physicians’ offices or go out to see others,” Harris warns.
How can you avoid this? “You have to start planning now,” Bell advises. “Start thinking about what you may need. But don’t perceive aging in place as staying where you are. It’s staying in the right place with the right plan.”