Age-proof Your Home: Preparing to Age in Place
Posted: 11/1/2021 11:39 AM by
If you were like most first-time home buyers, your must-have list probably didn’t include things like a curbless shower, extra room for wheelchair access, or stairless entries. But as we age, it becomes apparent most homes tend to be built for youth. And those features once considered modern, comfortable and convenient may actually pose unexpected challenges for older adults intending to stay in their family homes as long as possible. But that doesn’t mean your only option is to relocate to an assisted living facility or senior community that can accommodate your needs
Staying Put = Aging in Place
Aging in place is a popular term used to describe a person wishing to stay in their home as they age and for as long as they are able to safely do so. Even though it’s a hard pill to swallow, as our bodies grow older, our capabilities will change. If you intend to age in place, the best way to prepare for the years ahead is to consider some of the changes you will likely face. Then, you can start developing a plan to prepare your home for your future needs.
A few examples of changes you might experience as you age are:
- Reduced Vision
- Decreased muscle strength or endurance
- Reduced mental processing capabilities
- Increased risk of falls due to balance
- Increased risk of illness
- Reduced hearing
- Decreased mobility
Planning Ahead Isn’t Just for Old People
Whether you’re officially retired or nearing retirement age, (or have parents who are), there are many changes (large and small) you can start making now to keep your home safe, comfortable and enjoyable in the years ahead.
A Low Maintenance Exterior is Key
When it’s time to update the exterior of your home, be sure to choose low-maintenance options. For example, vinyl siding, metal roofing and composite decking are sturdy materials that will last a long time and require little upkeep.
Limit and/or Eliminate Stairs and Steps
Mobility issues are a common concern for most people as they age, so improving access to safely enter and exit your home should be a top priority. Talk with a contractor about options that could potentially eliminate dangerous fall hazards like steps and stairs. And if you decide to put in a ramp or walkway, be sure to use materials that aren’t slippery. If your home has stairs, consider having a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor. A contractor can help you discover creative ways to convert existing space into living space that accommodates your lifestyle as you age. If a major construction project is not possible, look into chair lift options that can help you navigate interior stairs safely.
Simple changes like switching out kitchen cabinets for pull-out drawers can help create convenient access to your pots, pans and dishes you will use daily. If you’re looking to update your kitchen with a remodel, consider lowering your countertops, bar, or kitchen island to a comfortable height. To reduce the need for bending, you may even want to consider positioning your dishwasher, oven and microwave in locations a bit higher than normal.
Re-think Bathroom Spaces
Lifting your legs up and over the edge of a bathtub or shower can become difficult in later years. Consider replacing a traditional bath tun with a large curbless shower that you can easily roll a walker, wheelchair, or transfer chair right inside. You may not need wheelchair or walker access right away, but eliminating the need to step up to access your shower makes getting in and out very easy and can reduce your risk of falling now and in the future.
Hiring a Certified Aging in Place Specialist
So, you’ve decided to invest in home improvements that will help keep you safe and comfortable as you prepare to age in place. But who can you trust to do the work correctly?
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers Council in collaboration with the AARP, NAHB Research Center, and NAHB 55+ Housing Industry Council created a special designation for Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS). Contractors with a CAPS designation have been trained on the unique needs of seniors and have earned a special certification that prepares them to meet the unique needs of older people and modify homes so someone can live there longer as they age.
If you are concerned about making your home ‘aging ready’, a CAPS-certified professional could be very helpful in making sure your future needs are addressed during your remodeling project.
Financing Your Future Safety at Home
Home modifications requiring structural changes can be costly. And for older people on a fixed income, the expenses can be daunting and oftentimes even unrealistic. The good news is there are many financial resources available to help you fund projects that will help safely age in place.
Medicare and Assistive Technology
Unfortunately, Original Medicare typically does not pay for the cost of home modifications. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Medicare may pay for assistive technology devices that are considered part of the modification process. For Medicare to cover the cost of any assistive technology device, your physician will have to prescribe document a medical need and prescribe the device for medical reasons.
Assistive technology is defined as a service or tool that helps people with a daily routine that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. Some examples of assistive technology include, and are not limited to, the following:
- Bathing assistance devices like a bath lift attached to the wall or a chair for the bathtub
- Memory aids like iPads, applications, or other technology that can help people complete certain tasks
- Medication reminders including electronic pillboxes and medication reminder systems
- Home and remote safety monitoring technology including remote alert systems
Original Medicare and Home Modifications
Assistance from Medicare may also be available to help determine what home modifications are medically required. Medicare Part B will often pay for an occupational therapist to evaluate a home and determine what changes are required. In some rare instances, Medicare will pay for bathroom modifications and walk-in tubs or stairlifts specifically. Unfortunately, the majority of home modifications for the elderly are not typically paid for by Original Medicare. If Medicare assistance is provided at all, it will typically be for the hardware associated with the modification, not for the construction component.
Medicare Advantage and Home Modifications
When it comes to Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, which are available via private insurance companies, benefits could include home modifications for recipients that demonstrate a medical need. In order to receive this benefit, you must provide “a reasonable expectation of improving or maintaining the health or overall function” of the person receiving the benefit. It’s important to note that MA plans vary by state, and even certain plans within a particular state do not offer identical supplemental benefits. To learn what you are entitled to through Medicare Advantage, it’s always best to call the private insurance company that handles your MA plan.
Home Modification Assistance Available for Veterans
There are home modification assistance programs available to veterans from both the Veterans Administration and from unassociated, non-profit organizations that serve veterans. The VA provides multiple grants including SAH Grants, SHA Grants and HISA Grants for this purpose.
The Veteran Directed Care (VDC) program, previously called the Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Services (VD-HCBS) program, also provides veterans financial assistance to help them remain living in their homes. Should a home modification be a medical necessity, Veterans receiving a pension may receive a temporary increase in benefits to cover the cost. Additionally, the national, non-profit organization Rebuilding Together offers Veterans home modification assistance in the form of labor and covering the cost of some materials through its Heroes at Home Program.
Non-profit Assistance for Home Modifications
Many non-profit organizations offer assistance in the form of financial aid or volunteer labor to help seniors with home modifications. Another option would be to seek out local community organizations that help with labor or have resources available to help offset the expenses for certain individuals who have an urgent need for necessary home modifications.
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