Mar 10, 2022

What makes a house good for aging in place?

Nat Miller

One thing that we are always telling our clients is how important it is to make sure that they are living in a home that is designed to fit all their needs as they age, allowing them to easily live independently long into their retirement. However, while this phenomenon, known as “aging in place,” is on the rise, many people don’t realize that their home is not appropriate for aging in place until it is too late. Like most things in life, the easiest way to make sure that you are living in a home that makes sense for you while you age is to plan ahead. Making sure you’re living in the right home in your 50’s and 60’s will make sure you’re already in place to keep living your best life in your 70’s and 80’s. Given renovations and moves only get more difficult with age, it often makes sense to make sure your home is appropriate for aging in place as early as possible.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the easiest way to make sure that you are set up to age in place may be to move before you’ve actually aged. This is because often times the biggest reason why a home isn’t ideal for aging in place is due to something that is hard (if not impossible) to fix without major construction - that the home has multiple levels instead of just a single level. However, unlike some of the other fixes we discuss below, this one can’t be solved by the local handyman or a trip to the local Home Depot. But despite the seeming hassle, there are a lot of reasons why moving to a single level home is recommended by so many experts and aging homeowners alike. Not only are there the obvious mobility benefits of not having to go up and down stairs, but there are also added psychological benefits to having all the rooms that a person is using close together. Big houses, designed to hold family members who have now moved out, not only bring additional costs and burdens of maintenance, but can also feel lonely and unused when not filled with people. The easiest way to solve this can often be moving to a right-sized home in a neighborhood full of similarly minded people.

If you don’t want to move out of your home (or bulldoze the top levels, which we don’t recommend!), there are still steps you can take to try and make your multi-level home perfect for aging in place. Before even getting to light construction projects, the first thing you can do right away is to make sure that your home is free of clutter that can pose a tripping hazard, such as extension cords or unused furniture or clothing sitting around. Also consider pulling up any rugs as these can also pose a risk for slipping. At the very least, consider putting antislip mats under any rugs to try and ensure that they pose as little risk as possible.  

There are also several construction projects that you can undertake in a home to make it easier to age in place. First, handrails can make the home (or certain rooms within it) much more navigable, and are often most helpful in hallways or bathrooms. If a handrail isn’t enough to make hallways or staircases navigable, a good option could be to install a stairlift, which attaches a chair or platform to staircase to carry the individual up and down. In addition to renovations for moving around the house, the bathroom can be another place to add high-value renovations. Installing showers and baths with wide, easy to access doors or openings can help prevent the risk of slips and falls, as well as strategically placed handle bars. Even if you aren’t ready to start making these renovations to your home, it is worthwhile to consider if your current (or new home) could one day accommodate such renovations. It often pays to think ahead by considering factors like wide hallways or open bathrooms.

Along with making your home physically more appropriate for aging in place, you can also make your home "smarter" for aging in place.  A “smart home” is used to describe a home where internet connected devices help take care of household tasks, often with little to no input from the homeowner. Popular examples of “smart home” systems include Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Nest. These devices not only help with the burdens of house ownership, they also make life easier and cheaper by helping people efficiently heat their homes or turn off their lights, or helping with things like scheduling and staying in touch with friends and family.  

Three additional factors make a home good for aging in place, and fortunately it is likely that you have already heard these factors before: location, location, location. While people may have different interests in their retirement - some may want to play golf while others may want to see the cultural sites, and others want both - many people have the same needs when it comes to aging such as proximity to good hospitals and healthcare. In addition, some people like making sure that they are near airports as they plan to travel more when they retire, or otherwise make it easy for friends and family to join them in their new warm location. Finally the weather can also make a big difference in quality of life as you age. Not only does moving somewhere warm mean that you will no longer have to shovel out of the snow, but the warmer temperatures have also been shown to help with conditions like arthritis. Further, living somewhere warm will help incentivize you to stay active by getting outdoors, something that can help you age gracefully.

Unfortunately many people put off making sure that they are going to be able to age in place until it is too late. But finding the right place to age in place does not need to be difficult, and can be made greatly easier by taking time in advance to plan make sure that your home and area will be the best possible for for you in the long run.

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