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Is Your Home Ready for the Rest of Your Life?

It’s an oft-quoted finding from an AARP study: most people want to live for as long as possible in their own homes. And, while remaining in one’s home may not be feasible for everyone, it is something a large majority of older Americans will likely end up doing. Understandably so. Even when the cost of household and support services are taken into account, staying in your present home can be considerably more affordable than moving to an active aging or retirement community. Plus, for many people, the idea of leaving long-time friends, a trusted support system and the site of so many cherished memories is a less than appealing proposition.

Peter Pan Housing?
If you’re one of those who is planning to “age in place,” it’s never too soon to consider how well your home will be able to support your needs and lifestyle in the years ahead. The fact is, most housing stock in Connecticut was built during the post-World War II period – a time when families were expanding and life spans were shorter. Sometimes called “Peter Pan” housing, these homes seemed to be designed for those who would never grow old. Certainly, many features that are common to them — second-floor master bedrooms and baths, multi-step entries, basement laundries — can make life more difficult than it has to be for an older individual, not to mention less safe. Unfortunately, it isn’t until a significant health event occurs – be it an unplanned surgery, an accident or a medical crisis – that most people address such environmental shortcomings. And, as many recovering patients can attest, the week before you’re scheduled to return home from a care facility is no time to begin a remodeling project.

Accessibility…with Style
Besides being ready for the unexpected, there’s another reason to assess your home’s livability now: accessible design has become synonymous with beautiful design. In recent years, home product manufacturers have finally gotten the message that functionality with style sells. Consequently, they have been bringing to market a wide variety of products and design features that not only accommodate physical limitations, but look good as well.

Smart Home Technology 
Advances in smart home technology are yet another reason to start making some changes. Basically, smart-home systems allow to you control things such as heating and cooling, lighting, appliances and your home’s security from a central command point. The advantages of installing such a system? A reduction in the physical effort needed to maintain your home; fewer things to remember to do each day; enhanced security and convenience; and lower energy costs. 

Today there are also some wonderful innovations in home monitoring and communication systems. These are a particular boon for those concerned about the safety of a distant family member. One product, for example, gives an individual the ability to communicate with friends and loved ones through a touchscreen with large buttons that can operate as either a standalone device or interact with a TV monitor. Thus a person can enjoy all the benefits of the Internet (pictures, email, weather, news, websites) without any computer skills. Additionally, the system features a variety of monitoring sensors that chart activity, health vitals, and medication – giving adult children the ability to stay on top of a parent’s well-being even when they can’t be on site. When aberrations occur, the system notifies the adult child (or another designated person) by e-mail, text message or voice mail.

How to Get Started? 
The easiest way to figure out the fit between your home and your future self is to get a professional evaluation. The AARP recommends that such an evaluation be performed by an occupational therapist (OT) experienced in home assessments. Occupational therapists are licensed health professionals who are experts in helping those with health challenges carry out the activities of daily living with greater comfort, safety and ease. They are also adept at identifying ways an environment can compensate for physical and cognitive limitations.

Certainly, if you’re going to be making any changes, it’s important to know all of your options, even those that don’t involve remodeling or retrofitting. OTs recognize that some of your needs and issues may very well be met by helpful aids and assistive devices – for instance, amplification products if you’re hearing-impaired or magnification devices if vision is an issue. Working with an OT, you’ll also benefit from someone who understands how certain physical issues can progress. The truth is, health conditions change over time, and it’s critical to ascertain your potential needs ten or fifteen years from now. 

In contracting with an OT, realize that a thorough evaluation will take more than a single meeting. During the first consult, the OT will probably spend most of the time getting to know you better; discussing your needs, objectives and health concerns; observing how well things are working for you now; and learning about your interests and passions. All of these play an essential role in helping him or her determine how your home environment can support you now and in the years ahead. Subsequent meetings will involve a comprehensive assessment of your home in light of your current and future functioning and capabilities and, ultimately, the presentation of the OT’s recommendations and action plan.

An Investment That Pays
In the end, you will find that an expert assessment and well thought-out home modifications are well worth the investment. Not only will they contribute to a healthy and independent lifestyle as time goes on, they’ll likely increase your home’s value as more and more buyers recognize the advantages of “lifespan” housing.


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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide