Home sweet home

Should you consider aging in place?

By Barbara Pierce

Given the choice, most of us prefer to stay in our own homes as we age, near family and friends and the comfort of familiar surroundings.

Finding new hairdressers, grocery stores and shops is daunting. Establishing ourselves with new health care professionals is a challenging, unwelcome undertaking.

But if our home no longer supports us in our daily lives, is not a safe, secure place for us as we age, do we have the choice to stay?

The good news is that, with the right help, you may be able to modify your home so you can do what’s called “aging in place.” Rather than relocate, many older homeowners are choosing to improve their home to make it more age-friendly.

“We’re living longer; our home needs to support us,” said certified aging in place specialist Linda E. Fake, owner of Uniquely Yours Residential and Commercial Interior Design in Dolgeville. “I’m passionate about this as I’ve seen my grandparents and parents struggle with a home that didn’t support them as they aged.”

“An assisted living facility costs $15,000 a month,” she said. “If you put four months of this — $60,000 — into making changes to your home so that you can continue to live there, it’s much more financially viable to remain where you are.”

As an aging in place specialist, Fake is one of a small group of designers who are knowledgeable about how to help older people stay in their homes safely and securely. That requires understanding of the aging process and the challenges that a home may present to an older person.

If your home doesn’t have the basics to accommodate an older you, you might consider renovations.

Fake faces several challenges when adapting homes to accommodate older people.

“Many of the homes in our area are older, with the bathroom on the second floor, no bathroom on first floor. My grandfather had a stroke and my grandmother struggled to care for him for 17 years with no bathroom on the first floor. It was so sad to see,” she said.

Wider hallways may be necessary if one should need to negotiate in a walker or wheelchair, as are wide doorways and lower counter tops.

A shower that does not require you to climb into a tub is a must; having room for a stool in the shower is also smart.

Many fixes are simple, Fake said, like removing the threshold to allow you to come through the door on wheels.

Also to minimize the risk of falls, make your home safe for someone with increasingly impaired vision with additional or better lighting. Ease of basic maintenance is another consideration when planning aging-in-place home alterations.

Take proper measures

Other simple changes include installing grab bars for tubs and toilets in bathrooms, placing sturdy handrails on both sides of stairways, replacing door knobs with lever door handles and applying nonslip tape on outdoor and indoor steps that are not carpeted. These are all quick and inexpensive to implement.

Also, it’s advisable to place microwave ovens and other small appliances on countertops, fasten down rugs or runners and replace standard light switches with toggle or rocker-type switches.

Planning ahead is hard because you never know how your needs might change. The first step is to think about the kinds of help you might want in the near future.

“Eighty percent of disabilities come on slowly and gradually, over time, like diabetes and heart conditions,” said Fake. One way to begin planning is to look at any illnesses that you or your partner now have and think about how they could make it hard for you to get around or take care of yourselves as these diseases progress.

That’s where the help of a specialist comes in.

“We begin by surveying your home,” Fake said. “We’ll be able to point out things that you might want to change. Our objective eyes see things differently, as we don’t have the memories and emotions you have. We see how we can make this the best possible living environment for you as you age.

“We’ll help you create a home that works for a lifetime. We support and enable people to live in their life in the same home.”

Technology has come far and older people may not be aware of what’s available, she added. For example, a Ringdoorbell camera lets you see who’s at your door on your phone. This is a huge benefit, as you can see who it is and communicate with them on your phone rather than going to the door.

There are options to help finance aging-in-place modifications.

The U.S. Department of Energy offers assistance to modify homes for energy savings; the Department of Veterans Affairs offers vets grants to remove barriers and adapt to mobility devices; the Department of Agriculture offers loans and grants to low-income or disabled people in rural locations; or one could tap into the equity they have built up in their home.

For more information on Fake at Uniquely Yours, call 315-868-6611 or see uyinteriors.com.