Want to live in your home for the rest of your life? Boost your odds by "future-proofing" now. Older adults who are most likely to remain in their homes have successfully arranged their houses and lives in ways that maximize their ability to weather the physical and practical setbacks often associated with getting older -- setbacks that can make living independently more challenging.
Here are seven ingredients you'll want to have in place in order to age in place:
1. A single-story floor plan
Sure you can get up and down stairs easily now. And sure, many spry octogenarians can do the same. But what if you break a bone and require extended bed rest? What if you become confined to a wheelchair? It's possible to convert a downstairs room to a bedroom, but not so easy to live on one floor if the only shower is on an upper floor.
Think ahead about how you can convert to all-on-one-floor living, should the need arise. You may need to remodel to add a full bath on the ground level, for example, or insert a door to provide privacy in a downstairs room.
The living space also needs to be all on one level. Split-level homes can be problematic because wheelchairs and walkers can't easily navigate from one room to the next.
2. Basic safety upgrades
One's risk of falling increases with age, often due to medications or certain health conditions. Installing secure grab bars and wall-to-wall carpeting (or bare wood floors, no throw rugs) are smart safety upgrades that will help you avoid broken hips -- one of the most common reasons older adults are forced to leave their homes.
Familiarize yourself with the basics of bathroom safety and other home care safety, and start to slowly make your home safer for future needs.
Don't overlook good lighting. Dark hallways and burned-out bulbs are a common contributor to accidental falls. Did you know an 85-year-old needs about three times as much light as a 15-year-old does to see the same thing?
3. Accessible utilities
Sure you can reach tall cupboards, stacked washer-dryers, and back burners easily now. But it's likely that won't always be the case. Even something as simple as a doorknob may be difficult to open if you develop arthritis or other disabilities.
At least one lower countertop, a taller toilet, and a front- (rather than top-) loading washer and dryer raised up from floor level are all examples of slightly modified household items that become easier to use later in life.
Lever-type door handles, paddle faucets, and curbless showers make these devices easy to use even in the event of arthritis or other disabilities affecting mobility.
Familiarize yourself with the principles of universal design, for a home you can live in forever -- bringing together safety, convenience, and style for residents of any age.
4. Transportation options
Some 90-somethings are still on the road, but that doesn't mean that all should be. For many older adults, giving up the car keys becomes an unwelcome but inevitable rite of passage.
See what kinds of transportation alternatives are available in your location: Will you be able to count on family to transport you? Use local paratransit? Public buses? Are taxis an inexpensive distance from the grocery store? Can you safely walk or use a wheelchair to get to shopping?
5. Emergency alerts
Living alone is great. But if you need help, how will you summon it? Fortunately, a wide range of new emergency-alert systems and medical alert systems are on the market. Some personal emergency response systems are meant to be worn, so you can call for help even if you fall. Or you can install emergency buzzers that call for outside help in the bathroom or kitchen, where falls and accidents are common.
Also available: Monitoring systems that rely on sensors to track movements, such as how long someone spends in the bathroom or whether the front door is opened -- providing a safety net of information for an outside family member.
At minimum, you'll want up-to-date smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and a way to make sure that batteries are replaced regularly if you can no longer climb a ladder to do this.
6. Outsourced home maintenance
Older adults tend to focus on the inside of their homes. But what about the outside? Someone will need to tend the lawn, blow leaves out of gutters, shovel snow, replace roof tiles, and so on. Think through how you'll make this happen and whether you can afford to outsource this work to outside companies or individual contractors.
7. Automated bill pay and other transactions
Switching over to automated financial systems will eliminate your need to go out and do banking in person. You may be surprised just how many aspects of life you can automate to help you continue living at home, including Social Security payment deposits and other government benefit deposits, pharmacy refills, and even grocery orders.
The more aspects of life that can be managed electronically or delivered to your door, the less you'll have to rely on others, enhancing your odds of independent living.
Of course, a rich social network is also a key ingredient to successfully living in your home forever -- but ideally, you want those interactions to be born of wanting to be together, rather than needing to rely on others for everything in order to function.
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