The number of people in America who are over the age of 65 is expected to double during the next 25 years. Some major readjustments need to be made regarding how and where seniors live (and, as your peer, I'm speaking to you, baby boomers). A 2010 AARP survey found that almost 90 percent of respondents over the age of 65 said they want to stay in their own homes for as long as possible.
A number of barriers stand in the way of fulfilling that wish, which is referred to as "aging in place." The biggest hurdle, of course, is financial. Other potentially complicating factors include transportation challenges, lack of access to necessary medical services, an unsupportive community design or inaccessible housing. Unsuitable housing, or leaving their established home to move to a new neighborhood, can be a trigger for social isolation, which can quickly become both emotionally and physiologically damaging.
According to a 2016 report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, seniors have the highest rate of homeownership in the country. Most live in single-family homes, but those houses tend to be ill-suited for the needs of older residents or those with disabilities. Whether you are thinking of customizing your home for your future use, or trying to ensure that parents or a loved one will have a safer environment, this is the time to contact an expert in this growing field.
The National Association of Home Builders offers a three-day course to become a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist, or CAPS. These people fully understand the remodeling market and are well-equipped with the required resources and tools and latest technology to address the housing issues needed by today's aging population. CAPS graduates include builders, contractors, interior designers, occupational therapists and remodelers who know how to retrofit a home to make it safe for older or disabled inhabitants.
CAPS professionals are required to participate in 12 continuing education hours every three years through building industry-related educational activities.
There are three major accessibility features that directly affect how safely people can move within their own home: front door entrances with steps, staircases within the house, and wide hallways and doorways to accommodate walkers or wheelchairs. An experienced CAPS expert knows how to address each of these issues without damaging the structural integrity of a home.
Two other changes that can make a home better suited to older residents are light switches and electrical outlets that can be reached from a wheelchair, and doors and closets that have lever handles so they don't have to be turned, which can be challenging for those with arthritic hands. Adapting kitchens and bathrooms can be particularly expensive. For example, taking out a standard bathtub and replacing it with a roll-in shower can cost close to $10,000, but merely widening a doorway can be accomplished for around $2,500.
Seniors are frequently resistant to wasting money on customizing their homes based on their changing physical needs. But according to the Harvard study, the over-55 demographic is responsible for more than half of all American home improvement spending.
If you really want to stay in the home where you've made most of your happy memories, it's important to troubleshoot the potential accessibility-related problems that could arise as you (or your loved one) age. It helps to think of this challenge as a "glass half-full" opportunity that will allow you to enjoy living where you want to for as long as you want.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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