Coronavirus Could Persuade More Seniors to Age in Place



Coronavirus Could Persuade More Seniors to Age in Place

Long before the coronavirus pandemic, more than 90% of older Americans had expressed a desire to remain in their homes as they age. Now that COVID-19 has torn a horrific path through many of the nation’s nursing homes, assisted living residences, and other long-term care facilities, that number could go even higher.

Nursing Homes, Other Long-Term Care Facilities Account for 42% of COVID-19 Deaths

According to the New York Times, at least 54,000 residents and workers have died from the coronavirus at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for seniors. Since the first nursing home cases were discovered last March in Washington state, the potentially lethal virus has infected more than 282,000 people at some 12,000 such facilities nationwide.

Coronavirus has proven to be particularly deadly for older adults over 65, especially those who suffer from heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems, and other chronic health issues. COVID-19 also spreads far more easily anywhere people are living in close quarters, especially when workers travel from room to room and residents share some communal dining rooms and other spaces.

In the United States, senior care facilities have only accounted for 11% of all confirmed infections. Yet they account for 42% of COVID-19 related deaths reported nationwide, as well as at least half of the fatalities reported in 24 states.

Most of the Nation’s Housing Stock Isn’t Suitable for Aging in Place

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control defines “aging in place” as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.” The coronavirus pandemic could persuade many more people to spend their senior years at home. Unfortunately, only about 1% of the nation’s housing stock is equipped or designed to support aging in place.

Home remodeling is one solution to this problem. Fixes that enable older adults to live safely at home include:

  • Widening doorways narrower than 32-inches.
  • Installing lever-controlled doorknobs.
  • Installing smart light switches that can be activated from a smartphone or via voice control.
  • Adding dimmable lights to improve visibility at night and in darker areas of the home.
  • Upgrading to a smart, keyless lock system for easy entry.
  • Placing grab bars in bathrooms.
  • Switching out bathtubs for easy-entry showers large enough to accommodate a seat or wheelchair.
  • Replacing flooring with slip-resistant material.
  • Installing a wheelchair ramp.
  • Adjusting kitchen countertops to 30 inches for seniors using a wheelchair.
  • Installing a chair lift or elevator.

Paying for Aging in Place Home Improvements

Compared to the average monthly cost of a nursing home ($8,365 in 2018), even a major home remodel is likely a bargain. Nevertheless, financing home improvement remains a challenge for many, especially those living on a fixed income.

If their home is their largest financial asset, accessing that equity – either through a traditional home loan or a reverse mortgage – might be the easiest way for your loved one to finance aging in place improvements. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) maintains an approved counselor list to assist seniors in determining if a reverse mortgage is a good fit for their situation.

If they don’t have enough equity to cover the cost of remodeling, consider looking into the FHA Title 1 loan program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Repair and Rehabilitation Grant and Loan program provides loans and grants for individuals over the age of 62 who live in rural areas or areas with fewer than 10,000 people. There are income limit requirements, and the funds may only go towards repairs or improvements related to health and safety.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers several programs for veterans with service and non-service-related disabilities, including Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grants and Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grants.

Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waivers are also available through Medicaid to assist with some home modifications that allow low-income seniors to stay in their homes.

Finally, Habitat for Humanity’s Aging in Place program has been helping older adults renovate and repair their homes since 2013. A beneficiary’s income can’t exceed 80% of their region’s median income to qualify.

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