Maybe it is because I turned 73 three months ago. Perhaps it is because various aches and pains have become more of a part of my daily life over the last six months. Possibly it is because we are about to start visiting local retirement communities.
Whatever the cause, I have been thinking more about aging and how it is, and will, affect my future. I am not alone in this journey toward important decisions, and trying to do everything within my control to make things smoother. It occurred to me that a few posts dealing with some of the choices I must make can be helpful to you, too.
So, here is the second in that series, after Part One from several weeks ago. As always, your opinions, thoughts, and questions will be significant in my decision-making and allow this virtual community of retirees to share our experiences, fears, and options.
Not surprisingly, studies show that nearly 90% of us want to age in place for as long as possible. As the comments from the previous post made clear, staying at home comes with some costs and the possibility of putting you or your family in a difficult position. So, this is not a decision to be taken lightly.
Let’s assume that you have weighed the costs, benefits, and risks of staying put and have decided this is what you want to do for now. What can any of us do to make our current home safer and more convenient? What planning steps do we need to budget for to be able to stay home? Some of these topics were raised in the comment section of the previous post, but I wanted to have all considerations in one post for your convenience.
Unless you have already made modifications to your home, condo, apartment or bought a place with aging in place already in mind, most need changes to make the space safe and accessible. Here are some of the important things I have been considering:
- Seven years ago we moved to a one-story home. Most experts say this should be at the top of your list. As we age, our knees, hips, and balance can make climbing stairs difficult and dangerous. Stair lifts are an option, but impractical for many. There should be very few stairs, even into a garage or living room if possible. The front door steps can be replaced (or augmented) with a ramp. If you must have stairs, be sure there are rails on both sides, that the treads are solid, and that there is adequate lighting.
- Kitchen appliances and cabinets that are easy to reach, without bending over or standing on a step stool. Betty is too short to reach the stuff in our top cabinets. My job is to reach them for her. I have seen homes with all cabinets and countertops lower than standard to accommodate wheelchairs. With six years or so left in this home that would not make economic sense for us. But, if you are in a forever home, it is an option.
- Either a low-maintenance dwelling or arrangements for others to do most of the work of maintaining your house, inside and out. We use a lawn service and a twice-a-month cleaning company. It keeps us from working in 105-degree heat or doing lots of bending and scrubbing on already weakened knees.
- Raised toilet seats and showers or tubs that don’t require much stepping up or down. We added a grab bar in the bathroom with a tub. A.bath bench may be next to the master shower. One of the toilets in our home is higher; it is noticeably easier to use.
- Bathroom countertops that are the right height when sitting on a stool. Mirrors lowered and lighting increased. Automatic pill dispensers. Though not these steps are viable for us (see point #2), we have changed the light fixtures in both baths, adding more light.
- 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. I admit we still have a throw rub at both the front and rear doors. They may be gone by the time you read this.
- More lighting throughout the home. As our sight dims extra lighting will be necessary for safe movement and tasks. This is one area we need to make a priority. The living room and master bedroom are darker than they should be. Again, this post is forcing my hand.
- 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. A changeover to door levers instead of door knobs is something we did when we moved into this home.
- Emergency lighting (at 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. We have four fire extinguishers stationed around our home and three different locations for flashlights.
- The closeness of family or friends to be able to check on your welfare on a regular basis. Obviously, this isn’t always viable. We are lucky: our family members live between five and 15 minutes away.
- Adequate medical facilities that are close enough for both regular and emergency treatment. Arrangements can be made with home health organizations to provide nursing or physical care if needed. Emergency phone numbers are posted in several locations of the home. In these areas, we are in good shape.
- Low vision equipment and tools if needed. Things like talking clocks, extra-loud ringers or doorbells, and reading magnifiers may be necessary. Betty and I are learning the basics of sign language in case one or both of us need to communicate that way.
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.