With AARP reporting that 89% of seniors would prefer to stay in their homes as they age, or “age in place” as it is being called, deciding whether to retrofit your home or to move into an assisted living facility can be a difficult choice for many. While staying in a home, retrofitted for an aging adult, can be the top choice for some, it is not always the best choice. A variety of factors can, and should, be taken into account when making this decision.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, based out of Washington D.C., the primary retrofits that are necessary to the systems in the house, such as security and electrical systems, to create a safe living space for seniors aiming to age in place are:
Light switches by each entrance to halls and rooms.
Home wired for computers.
Light receptacles with at least two bulbs in vital places (exits, bathroom).
Light switches, thermostats, and other environmental controls placed in accessible locations no higher than 48 in. from floor.
Electrical outlets 15 in. on center from floor; may need to be closer than 12 ft apart.
Clear access space of 30 in. by 48 in. in front of switches and controls.
Rocker or touch light switches.
Audible and visual strobe light system to indicate when the doorbell, telephone, or smoke or carbon monoxide detectors have been activated.
High-tech security/intercom system that can be monitored, with the heating, air conditioning, and lighting, from any TV in the house.
Easy-to-see and read thermostats.
Flashing porch light or 9-1-1 switch direct-wired to police, fire, and EMS (as option).
Home wired for security.
“Telewellness” systems are also gaining popularity in the retrofit process. Telewellness can include anything from reminders to take medicine to quick means to contact emergency services. It may include cameras at floor level so that any falls can be seen by caregivers logging in from a distance, or shoes with GPS systems for seniors with Alzheimer's that alert the police and/or caregivers when the senior has moved outside of an approved area.
In addition, a variety of other structural details may need to be changed such as movement of plumbing to accommodate for a vital move of a bathroom or washing machine to the first floor of a multi-floor home, or an introduction of a slanted walkway rather than steps to use to enter and leave the house.
Some homes may be quickly and easily retrofitted while others may remain difficult to do so for reasons such as the size of the house or challenging electrical work. It is crucial to have for any senior what they need in close proximity. Thus, retrofitting the home is necessary in order to accommodate the needs of an aging senior. If the house cannot be retrofitted, either purchase of a different home that can be retrofitted or assisted living facilities should be considered. In some states, 300 square foot 3 room “pods” have been approved for placement in the backyard of the property. These already contain all of the necessary components to create a safe living atmosphere for seniors.
In order to have homes assessed, seniors or their caregivers should contact a Certified Aging In Place specialist to determine the best solution for retrofitting of a home if it is, indeed, possible.
Costs for either retrofitting a home or assisted living can be quite high. Depending on location, most assisted living facilities range between $3,000 to $8,000 per month. Certainly, many that are far more expensive can be found.
Meanwhile, retrofitting a home can also be expensive, particularly in terms of an initial layout of funds. Many telewellness systems sell for between $3,000 and $5,000, plus can include maintenance costs. Reworking electrical systems and changing the infrastructure of the home can also cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, clearly, depending on the scope of work that needs to be completed for an effective retrofit of the home, it does have the capacity to be exponentially less expensive than assisted living care.
One of the largest concerns to consider is the ability of caretakers to participate in helping an aging loved one. Without a network of support, a senior can find herself in a very challenging situation.
In an assisted living facility, there are nurses and other medical staff on duty consistently to ensure that all seniors have access to needed medical care without fail. From regular checks to ensuring that medication was taken to providing care in emergency situations, a resident of an assisted living facility never has to worry about how she will get help if she needs it.
Aging in place, in a retrofitted home, can be more fulfilling to a senior because of the sense of autonomy and normalcy. However, it is crucial to ensure that caretakers are available to help when needed and to ensure that seniors do not experience a feeling of isolation from others. Regular visits by family and friends are necessary, and in many situations a home health nurse is an ideal way to ensure that a senior is maintaining healthy habits and thriving.
Overall, it is crucial to examine the situation fully and consider all of the facets of both retrofitting a home as well as living in an assisted living facility. Both have their drawbacks as well as their positives, and the final decision of how to spend the senior years of your life is a personal one that deserves great consideration.