With more than 30 years of experience in healthcare and housing, Valerie Jurik-Henry is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), a designation awarded by the National Association of Home Builders to help seniors make choices to stay in their home securely and safely. These specialists include home remodelers, architects, designers, general contractors and healthcare professionals. A consultant and speaker on The Ageless Home™, Valerie discusses 10 common questions for CAPS about helping seniors age in place.
1. What is aging in place and how do I do that?
Aging in place simply is this: “aging” is you, and “in place” is at home—so how do I keep you at home safely and independently for as long as possible? To me, aging in place is a five-legged table. The five legs are: (1) A home design that you can move in and function in; (2) financial ability; (3) healthcare services that come to your home or you go to in order to keep yourself healthy; (4) transportation—if you need to go somewhere, can you drive or should you have someone or a service take you? (5) social engagement—if you choose to stay at home, living in loneliness is not going to work. To age in place well, look at the five-legged table to start the conversation about your home’s design being livable.
2. What are the best remodeling tips for my abilities?
Sometimes people with a disability or progressive disease such as Parkinson’s ask, “What do I need to do with my home today?” I prefer to be realistic and ask, “What’s your health going to be in 10 years? How do we see you as your future self?” Then we create home designs for your abilities. I recommend looking at what remodeling you can do now, in six months and in the next year. We lay out a plan that, over time, will get the house fitted for you.
3. Is this going to look institutional?
With remodeling, when people hear “aging,” they think “old.” They wonder if the home modifications are going to look institutional like large grab bars or a raised commode in a public restroom. They think of what a hospital or nursing home looks like. But home remodeling today is nowhere near that. The products, styles and designs are awesome, and they fit in any home style. You’ll never even know the design is clinical.
4. Is remodeling for aging in place expensive?
Older adults are especially concerned about finances. If people hear they need a health-related remodel, there’s a misconception that the cost is going to be expensive. If someone needs a wider bathroom to fit a walker or wheelchair, the price is no different than if they simply wanted a bigger bathroom. There is no upcharge because modifications are health-related.
5. Why do you call home modification an investment?
A home modification is an investment in yourself. If you choose to stay in your home and invest money in your house, it is an investment. What you save is the expensive monthly cost of living elsewhere such as an assisted living facility. So, when you make a home modification, you’re investing in your longevity in the house. If you upgrade or remodel your home, there’s a better dollar value on it. So, a home modification is an investment not just for now but also for the future if you choose to sell it.
6. Should I remodel now or wait?
Remodeling now or waiting is not wrong or right. It’s more of how you feel about what is right for you. Inevitably, those front steps are part of your house, but they’re cracked and falling down. Since it’s the only way into your house, you can either fix them now for your safety or do it later. You could get hurt and then fix your steps, but being proactive is the best plan. Any time you put off construction, it gets more expensive financially and physically. That’s the bottom line.
7. Does everything in a remodel need to be done at once?
If you know you’re going to want to remodel your home eventually, think about doing it now. You don’t necessarily have to do it in one big chunk—you could do it in sections, so costs are spread out over time. People are afraid of first steps, but they know remodeling is inevitable and they want to be safe. If they do something now, it motivates them to do more over time.
8. What are the top priorities when remodeling for aging in place?
As with any house remodel, the two biggest priorities are the bathrooms and the kitchen. In the bathroom, take out the tub and create a roll-in shower (no steps). Also, raise the commode and put in support bars. In the kitchen, make everything accessible and easy to use. In each room, ensure a turning radius on the floor of at least 5 feet by 5 feet, in case you are in a wheelchair and need to maneuver safely. Another priority is widening doorways. I do a lot of home assessments, and I tell people to walk around their house, and if something bothers them, to write it down. From there, we can set up a remodel priority plan.
9. How do you know if you should age in place in your current home or move?
First, consider if you want to stay in your current house. Make a list of needed corrections to the home. If you love your home and would like to stay, you need to be practical about repairs and remodeling that may be needed. If you want to downsize, you need to consider if it’s feasible and where you could move to. Are there too many repairs needed in your current home? Is the house too big? As you work through possibilities, it can be helpful to talk to a Certified Aging in Place Specialist to help you determine your best options.
10. How do I find the right contractor for my aging-in-place home?You can find a CAPS building industry professional in your area by visiting the National Association of Home Builders directory. Or, call 1-800-368-5242 toll free or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.