A recent report suggests that 56% of older adults plan to stay in their current homes as they age. This same report reveals that only 10% of those who plan to stay in their homes have started making any appropriate modifications to prepare for aging in place. Retirement expert Sara Zeff Geber advises older adults to make important modifications before they are actually needed.
New Realities as We Age
I get it –none of us wants to think about increased physical limitations, but that is one of the realities of aging. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a new challenge for which we need to prepare.
As we get older, we tend to have a greater likelihood of experiencing some difficulty with our balance. We are also more prone to falling and seriously injuring ourselves. Most of us will experience increased difficulty with our vision, hearing, and overall mobility as we age.
Staying Safe at Home
The results of a national survey on aging found that 62% of seniors believed that most other seniors they knew were unlikely to age safely in place. Geber and others suggest a number of home modifications that will help us safely navigate our environment. Some of these suggestions include non-slip rugs, higher toilets, showers without curbs so that we won’t trip, wider hallways to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers, handrails, and even raised gardens for those who like to spend time in the yard. Other suggestions include getting rid of clutter that could cause falls, increase lighting, and consider universal design updates so that a wide-range of physical limitations could be accommodated.
Jan Cullinane, author of The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement suggests that we should consider aging in a single-story, low maintenance home. She also recommends lots of windows for natural light. She suggests adjustable closet rods as well. For unexpected emergencies, she advises that we keep a flashlight in every room.
The National Association of Homebuilders provides an extensive list of potential home modifications for aging in place. It is worth reviewing.
Unexpected Home Maintenance Costs
Once we move into retirement, most of us will be more dependent on Social Security and possibly investments and even a pension (for the fortunate few). If we choose to age in place, it is wise to pay off our mortgage before retiring. Also, if there are major maintenance items that are needed, either budget for these or take care of them prior to retiring.
My husband and I had paid off the mortgage for our 22-year-old home and completed some modest home remodeling projects before both of us were retired. We hadn’t fully considered all the maintenance costs that we were about to face, given the age of our home. Our furnace and air conditioner needed to be replaced last spring. Before a bad winter storm hit, we had our roof replaced. Then, we needed to protect the outside of our home with new paint. Within six months, we spent about $22,000 on necessary maintenance.
Other Safety Issues
We also had not planned to pay a monthly security service, but we’ve had several break-ins in our community and felt it was a necessary precaution. We have 24/7 videos of our surroundings and of anyone (or anything) that comes near our home. Also, if anyone tries to enter our home when we are gone, an alarm will go off and the police will be called.
If we have a fire in our home, the security service will try to reach us and will then call the fire department. When I overheated some oil on the stove and it started smoking, the fire alarm went off, and the security service called to make sure we were okay.
Another reality is that many of us are or will end up aging alone. Living alone makes it even more important to live near vital connections. Having friends and family nearby can become increasingly more important as we age—especially for those who age alone. Also, having good local medical care and various transportation options can become increasingly more important for solo agers.
If you are planning to age in place, remember that your best plan starts with early preparations. Don’t wait until it is too late and you become dependent on other family members to make good decisions for you. Now is the time for all of us to plan ahead.