If you ask an older adult what they fear most about aging, it’s often the loss of independence. Given the choice, most Americans would stay in their own homes for the duration of their lives, rather than move to alternative retirement accommodations.
Most houses, however, are not built with seniors in mind. Staying in the “standard” American home can be risky for an older adult as their physical and mental abilities change. In fact, more than 95% of US homes lack aging-in-place features to make them safe and accessible for wheelchair users and seniors with other mobility challenges.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), environmental factors, such as tripping hazards and poor lighting, lead to about half of all injuries that occur at home. In addition, a lack of modifications, such as stair railings and ramps, can create further in-home danger.
Luckily, older adults have options, from adapting their existing home to finding a new standalone home that meets their needs.
Adapting your existing home
Adapting your home can be as easy as removing throw rugs and installing grab bars in the bathroom, or as costly as an entire remodel including wheelchair ramps and wider doorways. To ensure best results and protect your home’s value, it’s a good idea to work with a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders.
Some commonly recommended modifications include:
- Replace the standard tub with a walk-in shower or tub
- Install grab bars for toilets and tubs
- Replace your standard toilet seat with an elevated model (with armrests, if you have problems getting up)
- Consider open shelves to keep essentials easily accessible
- Replace ceramic tile floors with hardwood or vinyl for safe standing (this applies to other rooms as well!)
- Replace the cabinets with drawers and pull-out shelves
- Move commonly used items to lower areas to avoid the need for a step stool
- If possible, lower counter and sink heights
- Install an elevated dishwasher or one with drawers for easy access
- Replace old stoves with induction cooktops to help prevent burns
- Consider adding seated workspaces to avoid a lot of standing
- Install bed rails to make getting into and out of bed easier
- Consider an adjustable bed that can be raised and lowered at the head and foot for the most comfortable sleep position
- Make sure the bed is not too high
- Have a sturdy chair handy for sitting while dressing
- Remove unnecessary throw rugs and fasten down rugs or floor runners to prevent slipping
- Move furniture to create clear walking paths
- Replace your recliner with a lift chair, which will enable you to sit down or stand up with ease
- Consider a lightweight aluminum walker to make getting around the house easier (choose one that folds vertically for easy storage)
- Keep objects off the floor and coil or secure cords to the wall to prevent tripping
- Replace doorknobs with lever door handles
- Apply non-slip tape on uncarpeted indoor and outdoor steps
- Replace standard light switches with rocker-style switches
- Increase the width of doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs
- Repair or replace loose handrails and install adequate lighting in stairways
- Install threshold ramps when you can no longer walk safely up or down the steps
- Provide proper lighting (seniors need two to three times more lighting than younger adults!)
Financing your remodel with Medicare
Medicare will provide coverage for a lot of upgrades and equipment – but not everything. Here’s what’s covered and what’s not.
According to PHC Online, Medicare will cover:
- Manual wheelchairs (capped rental)
- Power wheelchairs
- Some positioning devices
- Seat-lift mechanisms for lift-chairs
- Mattress over-lays (capped rental)
- Hospital beds, semi-electric type only (capped rental)
- Patient lifts (capped rental)
- Oxygen equipment (capped rental)
- Durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, if it has been prescribed by a doctor and the coverage criteria is met
Medicare will NOT cover adaptive daily living aids, such as:
- Transfer benches
- Shower chairs
- Raised toilet seats
- Grab bars
Other finance options
Caregiver Homes lists several other finance options on their website, such as:
- PACE (Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly): “An innovative Medicare program that provides frail individuals age 55 and older comprehensive medical and social services coordinated and provided by an interdisciplinary team of professionals in a community-based center and in their homes, helping program participants delay or avoid long-term nursing home care.”
- Reverse mortgage: A loan that allows qualified homeowners aged 62 plus to take part of their home’s equity as cash, either as a line of credit, a monthly or lump sum payment, or a combo line of credit and payments.
- SHA Grants: Veterans with certain service-connected disabilities can use a SHA grant to adapt of purchase a home to accommodate the disability.
- A 203K loan: If you don’t have enough equity in your home to borrow against, you may qualify for a 203K loan. A borrower with good credit and a stable mortgage payment history can apply for the loan when certain requirements are met.
- Charitable organizations: “Many organizations organize repair projects for elderly persons or persons with disabilities. Organizations may include your neighborhood association or community groups, churches, synagogues, Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, Little Brothers of the Poor, Jaycees, Agency on Aging, senior centers, building trade unions, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America, Kiwanis Clubs, sororities, fraternities, high school volunteerism, YMCA, Knights of Columbus, Rotary Clubs, Lion’s Clubs, B’nai B’rith, Masons, or 4H Clubs. Inquire about interest in a community project or see if you can propose one.”
Nothing is more important to successful aging than preventing unnecessary injury. And few things are more important to happiness and quality of life than having an environment that supports the activities you enjoy.
Fortunately, for a relatively modest invest, the safety of most homes can be significantly improved to provide the best of all possible worlds: a safe, comfortable environment for aging that feels just like home because it is home.