The majority of seniors who are asked say they intend to live in their own home forever.
At the same time, only a small percentage have made any changes to those homes so that they will be safe and comfortable as they age in place.
The US Census reports there will be 73 million people aged 65 or older by 2030 and those over 85 will number 9 million.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) estimates that 70% of people making home repairs are making aging in place home improvements for their parents or themselves.
Of those who have hired a professional to upgrade their home for aging in place, 58% were younger than 65 and 10% were younger than 50, according to a recent survey from HomeAdvisor.
They found that 16% of those who contacted a professional were the senior’s daughter, not themselves.
Seniors and caregivers shouldn’t wait until a crisis occurs and the need for changes makes them an emergency.
5 Projects to Improve Your Seniors Home
There are some projects that HomeAdvisor finds to be the most popular among those who are making improvements to their home with the intention of aging in place.
(1) Home automation systems
49% of home improvements currently install home automation systems. Technology tools can help seniors.
Some of the most requested tools include health monitoring, assistive technology, automatic countertops, home security, fall monitoring and other smart home features. Keyless entry, wireless doorbell camera, and carbon monoxide alarms are also popular upgrades.
Smart home technology also can help with preventive maintenance, not just security or personal safety.
(2) Ramp for Entry & Exit
For homes with steps to negotiate at an exterior door, adding a ramp to the entrance makes it easier to enter and exit when mobility or balance is impaired. They are not just for wheelchair access.
(3) Installing grab bars
Adding grab bars in high fall risk areas, including the shower, bathtub, sink and toilet area, not only make the home safer but relieve apprehension in the older adults, who may even avoid the bathroom due to difficulty accessing the facilities.
(4) Widening doorways
Consider updating doorway widths to at least 34 inches to accommodate a wheelchair or walker before it is needed. Waiting for a need raises the urgency and often the cost and inconvenience associated with the change.
(5) Adding a ground floor bathroom
In multistory homes, to avoid the need to walk up and down stairs every time the bathroom is needed, many find adding a bathroom to the downstairs living space a fundamental need for aging in place.
Of course there are more than 5 projects from which seniors’ homes can benefit. There are, in fact, many aging in place improvements that can help make an older adult’s home more livable, safe and comfortable.
You can check out our Home Seniorization checklist to find small and big projects to improve their home.
Here are a few more renovations that are important for aging in place according to Home Advisor’s survey:
- Lever handle knobs and faucets
- flooring to prevent injury
- pullout shelves in the kitchen
- master bedroom moved to the first floor
- curbless (zero threshold) showers
- lowering countertops
- lowering electrical switches
- improve lighting for tasks
- personal alert systems
Paying for Upgrades
There are many ways that seniors and caregivers can pay for the home modifications that will help them age in place.
- Savings – money that has been set aside for retirement specifically for costs associated with aging.
- Loans – home improvement loans or reverse mortgages that can be used to pay for home improvements and veterans can receive financial assistance for home modifications that help them live independently through the VA. When choosing reverse mortgages for home improvements, seniors should take into consideration the duration they believe they will live at home because the loan will come due 12 months after they leave if other placement is needed. Home loans can be found through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, especially if the modifications keep seniors independent at home.
- Grants – one time grants are available to make upgrades; veterans can get grants for home modifications through the VA and organizations that support veterans; Area Agencies on Aging offer small home improvement grants for seniors.
- Contributed labor – some organizations will give labor at no cost to complete home projects when you purchase the materials; veterans can get help with labor and even free materials with the Rebuilding Together Home for Heroes program; community based building programs can help seniors with upgrades.
- Medicare will only assist with the cost of home renovations if they are deemed necessary for medical reasons and prescribed by your senior’s doctor. Medicare Part B will pay for an occupational therapist to do an in-home evaluation to help determine what improvements would be beneficial. Most costs paid by Medicare will be for the actual materials or hardware not the professional labor needed to install or upgrade homes.
- Medicaid waivers – low income seniors can get help through Medicaid programs if these improvements (environmental accessibility adaptations) keep a senior at home and out of a nursing home.
- Weatherization assistance program offered by the federal government can help seniors with the cost of improving their home against the weather and can help them lower their energy bills. A drafty door can also be replaced with a wider, wheelchair friendly door.
Some home improvements can be tax deductible for the homeowner. Certain items and the professional to install them as medical expenses can be deducted.
Who To Call for Help
Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) are experts in home improvements for aging in place.
The NAHB Remodelers of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), in collaboration with Home Innovation Research Labs, NAHB 50+ Housing Council, and AARP, developed the Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (CAPS) program.
A CAPS professional is often a remodeler but can also be an architect, designer, contractor or a healthcare consultant.
They are trained in universal design principles and have been trained in the strategies and techniques for designing and building aesthetically enriching, barrier-free living environments according to the NAHB.
You can find a CAPS using this locator from the NAHB.
It will be important for your senior to plan for the future not just for their current needs but also those they can forecast.
Preparing now for the future will help them be safe and comfortable (and ease your mind) in the home in which they desire to be their forever home.