There is no one perfect time to modify a home for aging in place. However, there are three distinct changes in lifestyle during the senior years when people are most likely to alter their living space.
1. Proactively Modify Your Home
Some people are just planners! Mostly, it’s because that puts them in control. When you plan ahead, you get to choose how you will live-in-place as you age.
The best time to alter your living space is proactively, when you’re planning for the physical reality of retirement living (internal link –“Conversation” blog). For many people, this means in their 60s to early 70s. This can involve a change of locale, a new home, or it can mean modifying the existing family home.
Most seniors say they would prefer to age in place at home. To do that successfully, they need accessible spaces that will accommodate future physical changes, no matter what that future may look like.
Planning for your physical retirement years is a bit like financial planning: in your sixties, focus on your 90-year-old self to make sure you’re comfortable during your lifespan. That focus makes sense for living-in-place, too. If you have 30+ more years, shouldn’t the home you choose (or choose to modify) be able to accommodate you for that stretch of time?
Modifying your home for living-in-place can involve a range of alterations, depending on the age and layout of the home. You’ll want professionals who know how to execute the principles of universal design to learn the extent of updates and/or remodeling needed. That typically means consulting with an architect, contractor, and/or designer who have received their Certified Aging in Place Specialist designation (CAPS) from the National Association of Home Builders.
2. Awareness That It’s Time to Modify Your Home
One of the best parts of aging is the experience you’ve gained and the knowledge that comes with that. So, if you watched your parents age, you’re likely to be aware when your ability to perform some daily activities has changed due to natural conditions of aging.
Lifestyle changes that typically occur first are low vision, difficulty hearing, loss of ease of reach, and arthritis. These are all part of the normal aging process that often can be addressed with simple alterations of your living space.
There are lots of low cost, low impact alterations you can make in your home. For example, increasing the intensity or amount of lighting over kitchen counters helps you see better, which makes chopping and cooking safer. Handles or levers that make it easier to grasp and open doors, touchless water faucets, easy-to-reach kitchen storage – all of these and more are simple solutions that can make the tasks of daily living much more comfortable.
If you have been diagnosed with a progressive disease like Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis (MS), solutions may require more sophisticated home alterations. These diseases mimic the effects of aging, but the symptoms progress faster. It’s a great idea to get ahead of the curve and call in a specialist to perform a home assessment and make a plan. This will help you and your family understand how and what to modify around the home for safety and comfort.
In addition, you also may want to hand off some maintenance chores that are increasingly difficult to do. Trusted professionals can free up your time and energy – and keep grown children from worrying about you!
3. Modifying Your Home in Response to an unplanned incident
A fall or other trauma can’t be planned. Many people don’t think about modifying their home until they have to respond to a medical occurrence such as an injury, surgery, or a stroke (for example).
The most common injuries among seniors result from falls. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), approximately 30 percent of people age 65 and older fall each year, and that number increases with age. Whether or not the fall occurs at home (and most do!), serious injuries greatly decrease your ability to get around.
The ability to recover at home from an injury, surgery, or medical trauma can depend on how ready your home is to accommodate you. Is there a room where you can sleep on the main level, and a full bathroom? Does the bathroom have a walk-in shower with safety grab-bars, so you can wash? Can you access food in the kitchen if you’re using a walker or are in a wheelchair?
Can a home change, too?
Older homes have some environmental risks – narrow doorways, fixed shelves, no full bathroom on the main floor, sometimes steep stairs or too many stairs between essential living areas.
Sometimes a home can be quickly modified with rented medical equipment to accommodate a home recovery. In other homes, the only solution during recovery is a rehabilitation facility or assisted living.
Ideally the time to alter your home for living in place is before things happen.