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Aging in place- it's all the rage?

More folks are staying put for various reasons, and some of those reasons are not immediately obvious. The plan had always been to enjoy the home after the kids left and then when it was too much to handle to spend some time looking for that perfect little place. Maybe the plan all along was to stay in the house but it's not as easy to navigate as it once was. The economy has made it more difficult to sell the family home where downsizing was the original plan but where houses sit on the market for months at a time without seeing potential buyers. The ability to finance has almost disappeared for some on fixed incomes as most retired folks are.

Then there was the planned move to the warmer climate that doesn't sound so enticing anymore with the past hurricane history putting a mental block on that option. Aging should be easy but it isn't. The older we get the harder it is for our bodies to fit into all the places it used to fit. Getting in and out of the car is harder, getting in and out of the shower requires better care, the steps seem higher each time we climb them and then there's the toilet. Utensils and appliances in the kitchen require better care as folks loose some mobility and senses. Familiarity becomes an issue when we were used to "just dealing with it" and our refusal to face some of these can be the cause of a couple of bumps and bruises from time to time. We want to maintain our dignity and independence while remaining safe and comfortable and AARP has concluded that 82% of folks 65 and over wish to remain in their homes for as long as possible.

Not everybody has to deal with this, some folks age gracefully and reject any need for assistance but there is another group that can't get by so easily and this is where universal design comes into play although it does benefits both groups. Universal design is a term used to define the theme for properly planning for the practical usage of the home where seniors plan on aging in place where safety and usability is most important. There could be some that would argue other definitions or say that it's a paradigm shift in the way seniors age but its essentially about being practical in the way the home works best where diminished personal capabilities become quality of life concerns.

There are costs associated with universal design. It may cost a little or it may cost a lot and if the goal is to remain in the home for as long as possible there could be wholesale changes such as converting a downstairs den or sitting room into a bedroom to reduce the number of trips up and down the steps. It may require a complete kitchen renovation for those in wheel chairs so that the appliances are at a suitable level. That could lead to ramps at all outside step areas or lifts for the stairs. It could be as easy as installing light switches with motion sensors or rocker light switches in all of the rooms to keep from fumbling for light pulls on each lamp which could prevent falls. It could include hand rails on both sides of the stairs and grab bars in the bathroom. The bathroom should be updated with a walk in shower and toilets raised for barrier free accessibility. For those with struggling with vision issues there will be a need to maximize contrasts in the home through the use of proper and upgraded lighting, through color changes from room to room to help identify certain areas. Clutter needs to be removed, round door handles should be switched out for door levers.

You can find more information about universal design at AARP and through the National Homebuilders Association that supports the CAPS program for Certified Aging in Place Specialist.

Some resources folks have used to pay for universal design changes in the home include financing the costs through reverse mortgages, home equity lines of credit and in some states and local municipalities there are programs that help homeowners through their Area Agency on Aging organizations. Otherwise, they would pay cash for the updates. A study by Lifease conducted at a Minnesota Parade of Homes event concluded that 85% of attendees were willing to pay for the costs, with some 40% saying it would also increase the resale value of the home.

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