Not long ago we were asked by a customer to make his newly acquired home more accessible. As I pulled up to house, which was a split level with a three step main entrance, I couldn’t help but think “What in heaven was he thinking?” Theoretically a split level could be made accessible through a combination of ramps, lifts, or elevators. The cost however would be exorbitant and the interior of the house would be aesthetically dominated by “fixes” to overcome its short comings.
We live in a nation where individuals own multiple homes during their lifetime. So, if we are thoughtful about our aging process many of us will have the opportunity to acquire a “last house”. In planning, acquiring and renovating this “last house” the opportunity exists to create a place of security and comfort to “age in place”. We can avoid a disruptive “late in life relocation” because our home no longer works for us.
Keeping in mind just a few general concepts will go a long way to making your last house work for you:
Start with A Single Floor Plan: Having the bedroom, master bath, and laundry on the main floor of the home should be a starting point in any home that you are considering. In addition, a ground level main entrance will eliminate the need for any ramping.
Engage a Contractor Advisor: Enlist a contractor with accessibility renovation experience to look at the home with you before finalizing a purchase contract. Some homes readily lend themselves to widened doorways and walk in showers. Others do not. Even if renovations are not in the immediate future an experienced accessibility contractor can help plan for the future renovations with a solid estimate of the costs involved.
Remember Safety Issues: Non-slip floors and grab bars become extremely important as flexibility and balance diminish. Personal alert systems provide an important backup.
Be Honest with Yourself: This is the hardest part. No one likes to think about needing accessibility and safety accommodations to stay in their home. Somehow we think we stay younger by ignoring the aging process. What we do know is that 90% of seniors surveyed by AARP indicate a preference for staying in their own homes as they age. 82% of those individuals indicated they would like to stay in their own home even when they begin to need day-to-day assistance or ongoing health care. (see www.aarp.org ). For many seniors not adapting their home can become a deterrent to a continued life in their property. Thinking about how you age and planning to adapt your home in advance provides an opportunity for continued independence. The concept of your “last house” should not be a somber thought, but rather an invigorating and thoughtful reinforcement of the continued independence we all want for ourselves.