Monday, May 13, 2013

What is Aging in Place and is it a viable option for my elderly parent?

By Bob Gregory

Aging in place is a broad topic and depending on who you turn to for a definition, it can have many different meanings.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defined Aging in Place in their Healthy Places Terminology section as “The ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”  This is a great definition and as I stated earlier, very broad, but it doesn’t give much guidance if you are trying to decide if this is an option for you or your elderly parent.  Dr. Marcia Ory, PhD at Texas A&M Health Science narrowed it down a bit as the ability to “live at home as long as possible”.  So what is Aging in Place? Here is my take after researching and speaking with “experts” on the subject.

Aging in place, in my opinion, is really about planning to age.  We all know we are going to grow older and we know there are certain changes that occur to our physical bodies as we age such as decreased agility, loss of muscle strength, reduced or diminished vision and hearing, increased risk for falls and illnesses and potential memory disorders.  We also know that most will see a change in their financial status as retirement brings reduced earnings capacity and limited retirement income.  There are a lot more changes that I could name but the above will certainly be on the short list of whomever you may ask.  So if we know all these things will occur, then why do we fail to plan for them?  Most people do have a plan for retirement but it is usually centered on the amount of money needed to continue a certain lifestyle.  However, most see this “nest egg” as the time to have fun and enjoy life with leisure activities and travel.  Where most retirement planning misses the proverbial “boat” is in the area of aging—thus Aging in Place planning!

Older couple pose in front of their home, Gran...
Older couple pose in front of their home
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is true that the majority of people who are near retirement age would prefer to remain in their current home or a smaller retirement home.  This overwhelmingly large group of retirees see themselves healthy and mobile and spending all their years in their current home right up until their last breath.  The U.S. Census Bureau reported that nearly 79% of people age 75 or older owned their own homes in 2010.  These are the individuals that would have benefited from an Aging in Place plan.  The core of the Aging in Place plan is to assure your home is ready for you to age!  The plan includes modifications to help with all  (or as many as possible) of the physical changes that occur with aging.  These modifications are designed to be made in such a fashion so as not to look institutional.

Some modifications made to a home as part of an Aging in Place plan:

ü  No step-up home.  This includes making the home’s entrance step-free by adding designer ramps and even lifts in the garage if necessary.  The plan will include removing thresholds that divide rooms that present a potential tripping hazard and installing elevators or chair lifts for multi-level homes.

ü  Bathroom safety modifications.  A typical plan would include replacing “slippery” tiles with flooring that is slip resistance.  It will also include modifying the shower so that it will have wheel chair access and the water control and shower heads are made more accessible.  Safety bars are also installed in key locations to help with toileting.  In some cases, the sink and vanity may be lowered for wheelchair access.

(Photo credit: homesower)
ü  Bedroom convenience.  Walk-in closets are configured so that clothing can be accessed from a wheelchair.  Light switches are usually converted to touch and lowered on the wall.  Tall dressers are exchanged for lower chests and clutter is removed for ease of movement.

ü  Kitchen modifications.  Kitchens are modified to allow ease of mobility whether the homeowner needs a walker or a wheelchair.  In general most appliances, including the sink, are lowered to make it easy to reach.  Clearance is often added to the sink and stove top to allow the homeowner to use as if they were a table top.  Upper cabinet storage is usually removed and lower storage is enhanced.

Raised Bed Garden
Raised Bed Garden
(Photo credit: Lori L. Stalteri)
ü  Lighting modifications.  Light switches are lowered and converted to touch.  Most rooms will have motion detectors to automatically turn on and off lights.  Special lighting at the floor level is usually added for safe navigation at night.

ü  Outdoor modifications.  Outdoor patios are often equipped with fashionable railings to aid with walking.  Flower beds are raised to reduce squatting or stooping.  Lighting is added for safety and beauty around walkways and paths.

Special care is taken to make sure the home does not look institutionalized while providing all of the same safety features found in an Assisted Living or Nursing Home.  Obviously these modifications, especially with the “designer” touch, are not inexpensive.  This leads me to the second part of the Aging in Place plan.  The financial part of the plan needs to consider the modifications to allow the homeowner to remain in their home and still maintain their standard of living.  This will generally lead to increased retirement savings!  It is advisable to have a contractor that “specializes” in these Aging in Place modifications take a look at your home and give you an estimate on the cost and the various safety features they will be able to add.  In some cases, you may want to consider choosing a new home that can be more easily modified!

Finally, you should also evaluate your current home to make sure it will continue to provide you with conveniences that you now enjoy should you lose the ability to drive!  You may want to consider a neighborhood or community that has shopping and entertainment within the community or on a bus route.  Also, make sure your current community is aging along with you—in other words; make sure it’s not becoming a hot spot for young couples and energetic young kids.  There is a lot to consider when creating your Aging in Place plan and home modifications and financial needs are just a couple.  Don’t forget coverage for health care needs!

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We look forward to reading yours.

Bob Gregory is an advocate for Seniors and is one of the founders of At, we are dedicated to helping families get the Elder Care help they need without having to provide their personal information! If find you need an assisted living facility or other type of senior facility, please consider

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  1. Most elders prefer Senior Care at Home option because they can live in the comfort of their home with some asistance and there by lead a secure and comfortable life in familiar surroundings.

  2. Senior care at home lets a person have the mental advantage of familiar surroundings. Stairs are a major obstacle for someone with mobility issues. Installing elevators or stair lift chairs can be worth it for someone who wants to live at home. Thanks for the other suggestions about home modifications.