“I’d like to move to a nursing home or assisted living,” said no older adult ever. In fact, a recent study by AARP found that nine of 10 older Americans preferred to live in their homes as long as possible. The aging-in-place movement seeks to let seniors do just that, avoiding heading to a retirement community or skilled nursing facility for as long as possible — or forever. But staying put requires planning, and the sooner you start, the more prepared you’ll be, whether you remain spry until 103.
There’s lots to do. You might start by remodeling or retrofitting your home to suit senior-specific issues such as decreased mobility or impaired eyesight (think improved lighting or replacing a bathtub with a walk-in shower). That’s what Arlington’s 78-year-old Stephen Grant did two years ago, adding a first-floor bedroom and bathroom and an outdoor ramp onto his Lyon Park bungalow. The interior spaces boast wider doorways (the better to potentially accommodate a wheelchair or walker), the bathroom has tricked-out grab bars and an easy-access shower. “I have some neuropathy issues, which means I’ll probably have an increasingly difficult time moving around in a few years,” he says. “I thought it was better to do this before it became a necessity. It’s given me a great sense of security.”
What Grant and others are buying into is also called universal design, meaning building or remodeling to accommodate all ages and abilities. It can usually be implemented or planned by builders or contractors who are Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), an educational designation offered by the National Association of Home Builders. “And it’s definitely more expensive to retrofit an existing property, though, so it’s helpful to think about doing things like an open shower or first-floor bedroom before you need them,” says CAPS-certified Clifton, Va., builder Vince Butler.
And even if you can’t do a major renovation or addition, simple changes like installing shower grab bars or amping up interior and exterior lighting can help ward off falls and other accidents. Both Checkbook.org and AARP’s HomeFit Guide include room-by-room suggestions for making your home more appropriate for aging in place. Advice includes using floating vanity sinks in bathrooms (easier for someone in a wheelchair to use) and securing throw rugs to the floor with special two-sided tape to prevent slips. Checkbook’s aging-in-place advice is part of our ongoing series on issues affecting older adults that include estate planning and assisted living. You can read more (and more about Checkbook’s nonprofit, non-biased mission to help consumers) at checkbook.org.
And for day-to-day needs, from laundry to transportation, you can get assistance from an elder village, an affordable social/medical network linking seniors with volunteers. The movement started in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood in 2001, when a handful of older residents, concerned about staying in their homes as they aged, formed the country’s first village, a volunteer neighborhood group designed to provide social connections and practical assistance. The idea spread across the country, and there are now about 200 of these villages in the United States, with dozens more in development. For Checkbook’s database of existing villages, see checkbook.org/washington-area/aging-in-place/articles/Elder-Villages-7220. Until Aug. 1, Washington Post readers have free access to Checkbook’s full aging-in-place report at checkbook.org/washingtonpost/aging.
Villages operate under different models. Some are small and staffed by volunteers, who help with tasks like rides to doctor’s appointments, tree trimming and light chores. Others have paid stuff and include extensive social and wellness programming (French conversation classes, walking groups). Most villages charge small membership fees. All villages connect older adults to their neighbors and communities. “It’s a concept that’s really combating isolation,” says Barbara Hughes Sullivan, executive director of the Village to Village Network. “Villages get people out, even if it’s just to the grocery store.”
Eldercare.gov also provides a directory of health agencies, resources for financial assistance, elder abuse prevention and legal help. It lists geriatric-care managers, consultants you can hire to help with planning, recruiting, supervision, and followup should you or a loved one need additional help staying in your home. It’s also a smart idea to contact local and national aging councils to learn about programs they offer. They can tell you whether you or a relative might be eligible for government benefits or assistance, and can usually help you with information on meal delivery, senior centers, low-cost in-home assistance, and help you navigate Medicare, Medicaid and other programs.
Since many seniors live by themselves, joining villages, taking yoga classes at the local rec center, or even getting a roommate can combat loneliness and keep them feeling connected and emotionally healthy. There are even online resources like the Elder Orphans Facebook Group and the Virtual Senior Center offering support and chat rooms.
Grant joined the Arlington Neighborhood Village a few years back seeking remodeling advice as well as rides to the doctor after an eye procedure. He’s driving again now, but village activities like potlucks and day trips keep him looped in.
And there are a range of other resources that can help you stay Chez You without endangering your physical or mental health. Besides the community-based food delivery from Meals on Wheels, you can get restaurant food or groceries zapped to your place by an ever-changing roster of services such as Uber Eats, Caviar and Peapod. Meal prep companies — Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and others — make it easier to put chow on the table without venturing out to the grocery store.
Because many seniors must give up their cars, public transit, ride-sharing and taxis become vital for getting around. Those with smartphones can use ride-hailing apps Lyft and Uber for offer convenient and inexpensive transportation. And there are free or subsidized public transportation passes for seniors, plus ride services to help fulfill medical appointments and other basic needs. In the Washington area, residents age 65 and older are eligible for Metrorail and bus discounts; they simply purchase a Senior SmarTrip card to ride Metro for half off peak fares or the bus for $1 a trip.
“There’s been a revolution in aging,” Sullivan says. “It used to be you grew old and moved into a retirement community or a nursing home. But people are staying in their homes and looking for more quality of life as they get older. They want choices.”
Washington Consumers’ Checkbook and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization that rates service providers to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by individual members and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. You can access Checkbook’s report on aging in place free of charge until Aug. 1 at checkbook.org/washingtonpost/aging.