Tips to Help You Age in Place

May 03, 2018 by Melisa Cox
Categories: Aging In Place

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:

  • Functionality: Can you navigate your home safely? “If you’re too frail to climb stairs anymore and don’t have a full bathroom on the bottom floor, you should consider changing where you live,” says Dr. Patricia Harris, a geriatrician and professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
  • Location: Is the home in a community you love with access to loved ones and things you enjoy doing?
  • Safety: Will you be able to get help in an emergency? “A lot of people overestimate their ability to stay safe. But if you live alone, you’re always at risk for having a medical event or a fall that keeps you from contacting someone in a timely manner,” Harris says.
  • Services: Are there nearby services you’ll want or need, such as medical care, shopping and entertainment?
  • Affordability: Can you afford to live in a private home and pay for your other regular expenses?

The National Aging in Place Council offers a free tool on its website to help guide you through the decision-making process.

Making Changes

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.

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.

  • Utilize technology to stay safe and connected. Many medical alert buttons use cellphone technology that works anywhere you go and links to a call center 24 hours per day. The buttons come with a monthly monitoring fee. Laptops and smartphones enable video chatting with loved ones, so you can see a friendly face. And you can also place a video camera in your home (for example, the living room) that then connects to an app on your loved one’s smartphone. This will enable him or her to get a visual check on you at any time.
  • Hire private duty care. A home companion for someone who lives alone (or a couple) can do light housework or cooking for you, take you shopping or just share a meal with you. “It can be a wonderful bridge for someone in the margin. Just one or two hours a day can be enough to keep that person safe,” Harris notes. If you have greater physical needs, you can hire a person trained in body mechanics (a certified nursing assistant) or hire a nurse. The services aren’t typically covered by Medicare. Prices start at about $20 per hour, depending on your needs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Arrange transportation. If public transportation and taxis aren’t an option, learn how to use an on-demand ride-sharing service ordered via smartphone. There’s even a way to order those rides without a smartphone, thanks to newer apps. A national nonprofit group called ITN America provides low-cost rides for seniors in more than a dozen U.S. cities, with volunteer drivers trained to work with older adults. And a number of cities have their own nonprofit groups that provide low-cost or free rides for seniors, like Senior Rides and More in Houston. Sometimes local governments provide low-cost bus or taxi rides to seniors based on income level. Some senior centers also have ride programs, like the Shepherd’s Center of Oakton-Vienna in Virginia.
  • Have food delivered. Many large grocery stores and online retailers offer grocery delivery at the touch of a button. You can also order subscription meal kits that deliver fresh, premeasured ingredients ready to prepare. And there are nonprofit meal delivery services specifically for seniors, such as Meals on Wheels. Some nonprofit groups also deliver medically tailored meals based on your needs.

Other Considerations

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.

Loneliness and isolation are associated with many health problems, such as depression, malnutrition, heart disease, stroke, cognitive decline and even premature death.

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.”

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