Gone are the days of Americans moving in with their children or grandchildren as they approach their golden years. Younger generations are choosing to move further from their hometowns and away from aging parents, and older Americans are living independent and productive lives well past retirement age.
As a result, “aging in place” has become the option of choice for many.
Aging in place allows a person to remain in his or her own home safely, independently and comfortably regardless of age, income or ability level. Surrounded by a familiar environment and given the independence to continue to live a life of one’s own choosing, aging in place has many advantages, including lower rates of depression among seniors, as well as enriching and diversifying the communities in which they reside.
With the number of Americans age 65 and older expected to more than double from 46 million today to more than 98 million by 2060, the remodeling and construction industries have begun to take note of their contribution to this trend.
“Most people who need aging-in-place services are living in homes built in the 1950s,” said Ivan Weichert, CEO of the Topeka Home Builders Association.
As a result, floor plans that were designed for raising a young family may no longer be user-friendly for aging homeowners.
According to Weichert, one of the most common remodeling needs for homeowners who want to age in place is for a basement laundry room to be relocated to the main floor for ease of use.
Other requests include widening hallways and changing door widths of bathrooms to allow for wheelchair accessibility.
“Most older homes were built with 2-foot doors, which is not wide enough for a wheelchair,” he said.
Bathrooms, in general, often require modifications to safely age in place, including walk- or roll-in showers replacing tubs; installation of grab bars to increase user safety; and taller, more accessible toilets.
Entry into the home also can be a concern, making it necessary to replace narrow, concrete steps with slow-entry ramps. Adding additional motion-sensor lighting and replacing carpet with wood, tile or laminate floors can reduce and prevent falls.
It isn’t uncommon that the need for remodeling or modifications is realized only after a fall or illness. Often, an occupational therapist will be called in to make suggestions for improving the safety of the home, or to give their recommendations on alternative living arrangements.
For homeowners determined to age in place, that’s where an experienced builder can help.
“There is a program called Certified Aging in Place,” Weichert said. “It requires training, with sessions held all over the U.S., on how to provide aging-in-place advice when remodeling.”
The National Association of Home Builders trains builders and remodelers to become certified aging-in-place specialists. A CAPS-trained builder can assess a home and offer advice and suggestions to homeowners and their family members.
According to Weichert, there are three builders in the Topeka area who have received CAPS training: Mike Pressgrove, of PDQ Construction, Keith Kerns, of Kerns Construction, and Ryan Passow, of Passow Remodeling. Their contact information can be found on the Topeka Home Builders Association website at thba.com.
Another valuable source of advice available to area residents is Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging, which can refer homeowners to other agencies that will assess a client’s home for free. JAAA also can suggest programs that will potentially help to cover the cost of necessary modifications for those with limited resources.
“The Topeka Independent Living Resource Center has a program that uses federal and state dollars to help lower-income individuals,” said Susan Harris, executive director of JAAA.
Harris points out that individuals living on a fixed income may have less to spend on major repairs or remodels at exactly the time they need them most.
“It depends on the individual needs and homes,” said Harris. “Smaller modifications are not as costly. Planning ahead is great to think about, even shopping for a home as a younger individual. While you have more expendable income and are still working, start making some of those changes now to be prepared.”
Weichert also offers his advice for keeping costs at an affordable level when working within a budget.
“The best way is to not get carried away with design features,” Weichert said. “Use laminate instead of granite or vinyl instead of tile. The finish selections can be kept at a minimum.”
He also recommends working with local companies, such as Carpet One Floor &Home or Long Lighting Studio, where designers can help steer clients toward affordable choices within their budget.
Finally, Weichert suggests a solution for those who struggle to come up with gift-giving ideas for the older adults in their lives.
“It’s something that people can do for their parents,” he said. “Giving them the gift of work can go a long way for their health, safety and enjoyment.”
Shanna Sloyer is a freelance writer from Topeka. You can reach her at email@example.com.