How To ‘Age In Place’
When Karen Hauck advises seniors on how to age in place safely or consults with those who want to construct a new “forever home,” she is speaking from first-hand experience. Before becoming a Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Hauck and her husband, James, were caregivers for her parents and relatives—all while raising their three children.
Karen had no idea that she would later put her caregiving skills to use in her own home after her husband and daughter were seriously injured in a vehicle accident in 2019. The Haucks had to make changes to their small home to accommodate James, who was using a walker and a wheelchair after spending more than eight months in a hospital. Karen said she needed direction.
“What I needed was somebody to just say, ‘This is what you need to do, and this is where you need to go,’ and to connect me to the resources,” Karen recalled.
Because of her experience, Karen wanted to become “somebody” who could help others in the same situation in which she found herself. Karen’s desire inspired her to earn a Certified Aging in Place Specialist designation through the National Home Builders Association (NHBA). She also started her own business called the Chippewa Valley Aging in Place, LLC, in Eau Claire, WI.
So, what exactly is “aging in place?” According to the NHBA, “Aging in place means being able to remain in one’s home safely, independently, and comfortably regardless of age, income, or ability level. It means living in a familiar environment through one’s maturing years and the ability to enjoy the daily routines and special events that enrich all our lives.”
Most older adults say they want to remain in their homes and live independently for as long as possible. In fact, a University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging released in April found that nearly 9 in 10 respondents between 50 and 80 years old said it was important for them to remain in their current homes for as long as possible. But the poll suggested many people need to modify their homes or plan for services they may need if they want to age in place.
For that reason, home improvement companies, nonprofit organizations, and individual donors are coming together to help seniors stay in their homes. For example, the Habitat for Humanity chapter in Sussex County, New Jersey, partners with other human service organizations in the community to carry out its “Aging in Place” program. The local Habitat undertakes home projects such as repairing decks, building wheelchair ramps, and exterior painting.
“It is the little things that help our seniors aging in place and extends longevity and quality of life, safe and stable housing, and community networks,” according to a statement issued by the Sussex County Habitat for Humanity.
Home Modifications Include Fall Prevention
According to aging-in-place specialists, the homes of older adults may require modification to make them as barrier-free as possible. The goal is to make homes safe by removing safety hazards and eliminating the risk of falling as much as possible.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 out of 4 adults 65 years old and older fall each year, and less than half tell their doctor. The CDC also says that falling once doubles your chances of falling again.
Beckie Spaid, a senior home care specialist with Care Advantage in Roanoke, Virginia, says that a senior’s eyesight, hearing, and reflexes that may not be as sharp as they once were are factors that can increase the risk of falling.
Spaid and Care Advantage offer fall-prevention tips for seniors who want to age in place:
- Stay physically active to improve strength and balance.
- Have your eyes and hearing tested.
- Find out about possible side effects of your medication.
- Get enough sleep.
- Avoid or limit alcohol.
According to the CDC, 1 out of 5 falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.
How Do You Pay For Home Improvements?
Older adults may need to create a budget when considering home improvements that will help them age in place. Depending on the project, some governments provide home improvement grants or loans for seniors, while community organizations may offer free repairs for certain projects. For instance, Habitat for Humanity builds free wheelchair ramps with the help of volunteers.
In other cases, seniors may need to borrow money to pay for a home improvement project, especially if it involves structural repairs involving the house’s foundation, frame, roof, load-bearing walls, and columns. In these instances, homeowners have several financing options to choose from if they do not have cash:
- Home improvement personal loan. Generally, this type of loan is paid in monthly installments at a fixed interest rate over a certain amount of time. Personal loans do not require homeowners to use the equity in their homes.
- Home equity loan. A home equity loan, also known as a second mortgage, allows homeowners to use the equity in their home as collateral. The loan amount is dispersed in one lump sum, and the homeowner pays it back in monthly installments.
- Home equity line of credit. A home equity line of credit allows the homeowner to borrow against a certain amount of the home’s equity. The lender gives the cash in a revolving line of credit (much like a credit card) rather than a lump sum.
- Reverse mortgage, also known as a home equity conversion mortgage. A reverse mortgage allows you to convert part of the equity in a home into cash without having to sell the home or pay additional monthly bills.
Older adults are advised to speak with their family members and financial experts when making plans to finance home improvements. Seniors may also want to connect with aging-in-place specialists who can make recommendations for home improvements. In fact, older adults may decide to build a new home designed to meet their specific needs. James and Karen Hauck eventually did this because James needed accommodations after his accident.
According to Karen, aging in place is not just something for people 65 and over to consider. She recommends that people in their 40s and 50s begin to prepare for the future, also.
“Everybody’s always like, ‘I’m not quite there yet,’ but ‘yet’ can come in an instant,” she said. “Because I can guarantee you, I didn’t think that I would be having a husband in a walker and a wheelchair at 50. Life can change in an instant, and there are no guarantees.”