People who can remain independent in their older years can often have higher self-esteem and lower housing costs than those residing in assisted living. But sometimes a home isn’t well-suited for an older resident.
According to a survey by Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit organization providing repairs and renovations to the homes of low-income seniors, 80 percent of people ages 55 and older own their own homes. Of this group, 92 percent said they wanted to stay in the home as they grow older.
Unfortunately, many homes were designed with a younger demographic in mind. For those with medical issues such as joint pain, stairs to enter a home or reach an upper level will begin to present a challenge. Many common tasks, such as stepping over a bathtub ledge to enter a shower, can also become riskier.
With a targeted set of home modifications, however, older residents can continue to live in a home for many years. The Department of Health and Human Services says such modifications should consider accessibility for older residents as well as the adaptability of each room to mobility assistance devices.
If you’re thinking about modifying a home so that it can be more accessible, the first thing to do is evaluate your home for areas that need to be upgraded. Several checklists are available online from organizations such as the AARP and the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications.
DHHS says upgrades should ensure that an older resident is able to continue doing common functions from day to day. Major appliances, closets, and other regularly used items and areas should be easily accessible. The legal advice website Nolo says the room-by-room assessment should also determine whether there are any potential safety issues, such as tripping hazards.
The Family Caregiver Alliance says some modifications can be made at a relatively low cost. In the bathroom, you might install grab bars, bath seats, transfer benches, and skid resistant rugs to reduce the risk of a fall. Handrails should be added to any staircase without them. To avoid bumping into furniture during the night, glow tape can be added to protruding edges.
Modifications to door handles and other common hand-operated features will adjust for any inhibition of grip or strength. Knobs on both doors and cabinets can be replaced with lever style handles. Attachable grips will also make it easier to use faucets and switches.
Other modifications will require a greater degree of renovation. The AARP says doors should be at least 36 inches wide to promote wheelchair accessibility. Lifts can be added on staircases, provided they are wide enough, and you might even install an elevator. Wheelchair ramps can often be added to the home’s exterior.
The AARP says a home improvement professional or contractor can help you determine the most essential changes that need to be made to a home in order to accommodate an older or disabled resident. The National Association of Home Builders keeps a list of certified aging in place specialists who can identify the needs of seniors and plan home modifications.
DHHS says some home modifications are relatively inexpensive, ranging from $150 to $2,000. For large-scale renovations, a homeowner may consider borrowing against the home’s equity to finance the improvements. However, funding is available from a number of other sources as well.
Local agencies on aging will distribute funds for home modification and repair through Title III of the Older Americans Act. To find out more about this source of funding, contact the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or visit eldercare.gov.
The National Caregivers Library says other government services are available to assist with paying for home modifications. The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers property improvement and rehabilitation loans. Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for all home modifications, but may be available to finance modifications that have been ordered by a doctor.
Funding sources are also available for low-income residents who need to make home modifications. In addition to Rebuilding Together, the Farmers Home Administration provides funding to low-income rural seniors. The Department of Energy manages two programs that invest in improvements to make a home more energy efficient: the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program.