July 20, 2016

Get Your House Ready For Retirement

Not surprisingly, studies show that nearly 90% of seniors want to "age in place," meaning they want to remain in their own home for as long as possible. Projections of $25 billion being spent to remodel homes to allow this to happen show this to be big business. 

Assuming you are, or will be, part of this 9 out of every ten of us who will resist the move to a retirement community, what can you do to make your current home safer and more convenient? What retirement planning steps do you need to budget for to be able to stay home for as long as possible? 

Unless you have already made modifications to your home, or bought one with aging in place in mind, most houses need changes to make the space safe and accessible. Here are some of the important things to take care of:


  1. If possible, a one story home  should be at the top of your list. As we age, knees, hips, and our balance can make climbing stairs difficult and dangerous. Stair lifts are an option, but impractical for many homes. If possible, there should be no stairs at all, even into a garage or living room. Front door steps should be replaced with a ramp. If you must have stairs, be sure there are rails on both sides, that the treads are solid, and there is adequate lighting.
  2. Kitchen appliances and cabinets that are easy to reach, without bending over or standing on a step stool.
  3. Either a low maintenance dwelling, or arrangements for others to do most of the work of maintaining your house, inside and out.
  4. Raised toilet seats and showers or tubs that don't require stepping up or down. Grab bars and a bath bench if appropriate.
  5. Bathroom countertops that are the right height when sitting on a stool. Mirrors lowered and lighting increased. Automatic pill dispensers.
  6. Elimination of throw rugs or other tripping hazards, like wires or cables, clutter and knick-knacks. Cut back on the amount of furniture in each room that must be navigated around to move easily, either when walking, in a wheelchair or with a walker or cane.
  7. More lighting throughout home. As our sight dims extra lighting will be necessary for safe movement and tasks.
  8. Doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, flooring that is easy to navigate (often that means eliminating carpeting), and flush thresholds to help eliminate tripping. Changeover to door levers instead of door knobs.
  9. Emergency lighting (least several working flashlights nearby) if the power fails and medical/security monitoring in case of falls or threats of criminal activity. Cell phones or wireless phones close by.
  10. Closeness of family or friends to be able to check on your welfare on a regular basis.
  11. Adequate medical facilities that are close enough for both regular and emergency treatment. Arrangements made with home health organizations to provide nursing or physical care.  Emergency phone numbers posted in several locations of the home.
  12. Low vision equipment and tools if needed. Things like talking clocks, extra-loud ringers or door bells, and reading magnifiers may be necessary.

aging in place
credit: home4alifetime.com
Staying in your home as you age will take some effort and money. Your goal is to remain surrounded by familiar things and settings as long as you can do so safely. 

This list is not exhaustive, but should give you a good start in deciding if you can make your house into your age-in-place home.



14 comments:

  1. Great list. NY state codes require garage floors to be lower (2 steps) below the living level. I think it has to do with vehicle carbon monoxide emissions. I saw one clever design where the person had an oversized garage (for her one car) and then had a ramp built into the garage that allowed her to wheel herself into the house.

    Even though we live within metropolitan Syracuse, the closest ambulance service to us is a small town about 8 miles west of us; it is a volunteer service. This means when you need EMS, it will take about 15 minutes for them to arrive (they have to call in the volunteers to respond). That's a long time when someone is having a life threatening emergency. When we built here it never occurred to us to check on this very important component of medical services.

    So much to think about as we age in place.

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    1. That is interesting about the garage rule. I understand the physics of its intent, but it does make for a potential tripping hazard. The ramp is a good work-around.

      A volunteer ambulance service within a metropolitan area the size of Syracuse..that is surprising, and a little disconcerting. But, there is not much you can do about it except stay healthy!

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  2. Great list! I am in the same situation with volunteer ambulance service. Never even heard of it until I moved East.
    We are in the process of ripping out the big tub and putting in a zero entry shower. I wish we could hire those people on tv who remodle a bathroom for 3000! All of our floors are becoming wood like. We have removed and stored a number of doors. I know we will live with scooters, not wheel chairs. My husband is working on modified one to a full height. What I love most about our new-to-us house is the master is connected to the livingroom, den, porch and kitchen. I figure we will be living in 600 Sq feet when we really get old. Our family can visit in the other 1500.

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    1. Fascinating...thanks, Janette, for bringing a real conversion story to the post. What you and hubby are doing is exactly in line with safe steps to live out our lives surrounded by the familiar.

      I particularly like the concept of 600 sq ft for us and 1500 sq ft for the rest of the family during visits. Ha!

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  3. We definitely will have challenges if we are in this house when we are less mobile. That said, we have a bed and bath on the main floor (plus laundry) that we can use. It's hard to think of living on only one floor of our house, so I think if it came to that, we'd move. We have friends who built a new house with a space to add an elevator (!) if needed in the future. I'm sure we won't do that...too pricey and dubious payback when we do sell.

    Re: the garage being lower. My DH put reflective strips and dots on our two steps so we can see where we are going if we step outside in the dark (to access garbage can, take the dog out at night, etc). They're very helpful.

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    1. Good idea about the reflective dots.

      We moved about 14 months ago from a two story home to a single story house because we could see issues in the future. Old knees and hips would not be happy going up and down 14 steps on a regular basis. i was also concerned about balance problems. With the bedrooms, baths, and offices upstairs we didn't see any real choice but to move.

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  4. Not really ready to think about all of this yet, but we have made some of the changes like the shower and the higher toilet. I'm hoping to be like my parents who are both 92. They have made no stay at home changes and they do quite well. The person who did our remodeling a few years ago suggested the several changes we made.

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    1. 92 and at home...that is quite an accomplishment for your parents.

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  5. Good idea about medical/security monitoring. A Lifeline or other portable carry-with-you alarm might be useful for those living alone. Also the outside of the home-exterior stairways and entryways might need renovation. Here in Texas there's a volunteer organization that installs wooden ramps at exterior doors for homes. There's a long waiting list. Closeness of family and friends is important also for social interaction. It's easy for people to become isolated, which is bad for physical and mental health.

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    1. The type of alarm button worn around the neck is invaluable for someone who lives alone. My dad had one for several years before moving into an assisted living center. I always felt much better knowing help was only a button push away.

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  6. Good advice! A lot of these modifications, such as resizing doors and countertops, can cost a lot of money. But in my opinion, everyone (not just the elderly) should have grab bars in their bathrooms, avoid the scatter rugs, and have plenty of lighting.

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  7. This is another great list, Bob. I think it's also important, though, for people to be open to rethinking where they will age. Twenty years ago, when I was doing research on unmarried women, I interviewed a widow in her mid-eighties who was living in an independent living apartment within a continuing care community. She told me that moving there was the best decision she had ever made, but that she had resisted it for a long time, determined to maintain her independence by staying in the house where she had lived for many years with her husband and where they had raised their children. "One day," she told me, "I finally had to admit to myself that I was hardly living independently if I had to call one of the children almost every day to come over and take care of something for me. It turned out that I had to give up the house that symbolized my independence in order to regain my independence."

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    1. That is an excellent example of why the decision to stay should be based on much more than emotion or the work involved in relocating. For some of us staying put is best, for others it is time to make other arrangements.

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