Why to Plan for Age in Place — Even in a Tough Economy

By now we are all somewhat aware of the fact that millions of Americans are living longer and healthier lives. Given that the 65 and over population is expected to increase from approximately 35 million in 2000 to 55 million in 2020,  a lot of time and energy spent on understanding and identifying what the Boomers needs and desires might be regarding their homes. Remodelers, aging in place specialists, caregivers and occupational therapists among others have all joined forces in preparing for this coming Silver Tsunami.

Understanding the changing needs and wants of the aging Boomer generation (those born between 1946 to 1964) will play a critical role in the success or failure of many businesses and industries in the foreseeable future. This generation’s defining desires–to stay in their home as long as possible and ensure the maximum independence possible–will be right up there on their list of wants. The planning behind these needs will have a direct impact on the happiness and fruitfulness of their lives.

For all of us–perfectly healthy or otherwise–our ability to conduct simple daily tasks like cooking and bathing (with safety and efficiency) has a direct effect on our sense of happiness and independence.

Additionally, for some of us who are perhaps just shy of the Boomer generation, or who might have parents that are getting older and might worry about their safety (slipping and falls, getting up stairs), we need to familiarize ourselves with the tools and alternatives out there to help them.  Eventually, many if not all of our lives will be touched by a loved one facing a change in mobility and ambulatory consideration, cognitive awareness or simply temporary disability (not always due to aging either!).

How Big is the Aging in Place Market?

  • 89% of people 50+ wish to remain in their own homes indefinitely (AARP)*
  • 75% of remodelers have seen an increase in requests for aging in place work (NAHB)**
  • 60% of remodelers already perform aging in place work (NAHB)
  • Over half of all 55+ households rate their current home a 9 or 10 out of 10 (American Housing Survey)
  • The aging population is the number two issue to affect the remodeling industry over the next five years, only behind the availability of skilled labor (NAHB)

*American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
**National Association of Home Builders

At least 20% of Americans are impacted by functional limitations and almost 60 million have some sort of permanent disability. The design or remodeling of homes should start to translate these realities into actual functional and aesthetically-pleasing spaces.

In my opinion, it is unconscionable for any design professional to not take this opportunity to educate the home owner on the ideas and principles of aging in place.  They should also pay keen attention to how it will address and provide for the home owners future demands for the space–not simply their current ones.

Home owners are investing good money in their homes and should be informed that this expenditure, with a slightly modified way of thinking and philosophy in approach, can also comfortably, stylishly and safely serve their possible changing needs over time.

What Should Be Considered When Remodeling For Aging in Place?

  • A low-maintenance exterior
  • Landscape /curb appeal design that considers possible location of future needed ramp(s)
  • Zero threshold entry to the home with some sort of entry canopy or overhang
  • No change in levels on the main floor
  • An open floor plan, especially in the kitchen/dining area
  • Varying heights for eating in kitchen design
  • Multi functional and possibly adjustable height millwork and storage areas
  • Placement of appliances with universal accessibility in mind
  • A master bedroom & bath on the ground floor.
  • Stacking closets for a future elevator shaft
  • Non-slip flooring in all pathways (if not all areas)
  • Wider doorways (minimum 3’ doors)
  • Lever-style door handles throughout
  • Bright lighting in all areas especially places like stairway landings
  • Handrails at all steps (if the home has them)
  • Multiple sources for lighting to reduce glare and shadows
  • Contrasting colors for depth perception in counter and flooring selections and design
  • Grab bars (or at least blocking in walls where they might be needed in the future)
  • Higher-seat toilets

What is the purchasing power of Boomers?

According to industry studies, Boomers control 80% of all the money in savings in the United States and about 75% of all privately held financial assets at any time–regardless of value of those portfolios. As such, this 1/3 of the nation’s population controls 2/3 of the total spending capital and disposal income!

Also keep in mind that even in a tough real estate market, such improvements and modifications may in fact appeal to potential buyers since such home will provide a longer stay. Owning such homes will also make it possible for buyers to address age-related disabilities of visiting older relatives, and make it easier for some to care for live-in parents (known as “sandwich” households).

A recent NAHB survey found that “Seventy percent of homeowners started remodeling projects for aging-in-place because they were planning ahead for such future needs.”

Boomers have defined the mass consumer market trends for the last 40 to 50 years. With their financial clout and their generation’s distinctive sense of self and style, they will continue to drive what sells and what is in demand in the years to come.

About the Author: Raad Ghantous is the principal of Raad Ghantous & Associates and is an expert in luxury hospitality, wellness centers, and medical & day spa developments.  He is also the owner of Your Home For A Lifetime, an A.D.A/ Barrier-free/ Universal design/Aging in place, full service design/build firm with over 15 years of experience  specializing in developing integrating elegant and seamless designs/modifications to new or existing structures.

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  • http://www.AprilBraswell.com April Braswell

    Hi Raad,

    Indeed. My grandmother passed at 102 years old and stayed at home. She had invested in a single level dwelling years earlier. I'm a younger baby boomer and have bud and dating and relationship coaching clients singles and couples who are in the first wave (now in their early 60s) of the baby boomer generation. The need for a small kitchen with some maneuvering room without it being a giant space is key for the stay at home independent living they crave. Bathrooms need to be designed from the start to have a hand rail in the bathtub area. It is not only for the significantly elderly years of 70-105 yrs old. During our 50s and 60s stuff happens and people have small operations. The need to catch yourself or pull yourself up is crucial. As is a full bathroom on the ground floor. Do you envision more single floor 2 bedroom houses being built to accommodate this shift?

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell
    Boomer Dating Expert

  • melissagalt

    Excellent insights from Raad Ghantous. As designers we all have the responsibility to educate our clients into universal design that benefits not just the seniors but those of us fast approaching that stage in our lives. Great points to consider.

  • patrickroden

    Not to mention that Intel has invested over $1 Billion in aging in place technologies. This is truly a Titanic potential problem with Titanic potential opportunities; and design holds the key to acceptance…

    Thanks, Radd for this article.

    Best, Patrick

  • http://www.findseniorhomes.com Senior Homes

    Also keep in mind that even in a touch real estate market, such improvements and modifications may in fact appeal to potential buyers since such home will provide a longer stay. Owning such home will also make it possible for buyers to address age-related disabilities of visiting older relatives.

  • gr8simpson

    This is good information. Being in the senior home care industry (http://www.azangelcare.com) we have to deal with these issues on a daily basis. One of the remodel jobs we see quite often is the removal of a bath tub shower unit and the installation of a walk in shower. In fact that is one that will be done at my house soon because my 85 year old mother in law lives with us. Her health is remarkable but she almost fell in the tub/shower last week. It wasn't she slipped, she tripped. She did not lift her leg high enough getting in and tripped over the tub edge. Luckily she caught herself in time but this was a real wake up call for me, and I should have known better. Thanks again in your efforts to educate the folks.

  • http://www.caring-for-aging-parents.com/chair-lift-for-stairs.html Chair Lift for Stairs

    Great recommendations and advice.

    Many seniors prefer to age in place – remain living in their own home safely and independently. With a combination of home modifications, assistive technology and in home senior care, many seniors can do just that. It's important for seniors (and their adult children) to plan ahead before they need any of the above – before a crisis.

    Aging in place is often a win win situation as the senior is happy (enabled to stay at home) and the family is happy as it is often safer and easier with modifications. In addition, it is often more economical to age in place than to move to senior housing – even with assistive tech, in home care and home mods.


  • http://twitter.com/Lifemedical TC Marketing

    An addition to the list above of what is needed for aging in place… depending on need an in-home monitoring system. Lot's of companies and services out there. Do your homework, free systems are not necessarily the best offering, also find out who is answering the emergency calls. What you want to avoid is the unpleasant occurrence of having your senior fall and lay there for many hours or days. It happens more than we like to think.

  • http://www.myears.com My Ears

    Considering getting a Personal Emergency Response system in case your mother-in law trips again and you are not available to help her.

    A personal emergency response system will enable the injured party to call for immediate medical attention. With the push of a button, a trained professional will contact you to see what type of help is needed and figure out the appropriate response – be it sending a friend, family member or emergency response personnel.

    Check out http://www.myears.com

  • http://clearcareonline.com/ ClearCare

    Most, if not all, seniors would prefer home care service to a nursing home. Nursing care facilities have experienced significant decline as senior care options increase in number. From an economic standpoint, home care is less costly and it also reinforces the seniors’ sense of pride and dignity. Despite receiving care in the comfort of their own homes, they can still exercise a considerable degree of independence. Many home care agencies are equipped with home care systems to make sure care plans whether hourly or daily are thoroughly executed.

  • http://www.ryanmalone.com Ryan Malone

    Yes, you are right that most people want to stay at home. Where the belief starts to fade is when staying at home means isolation from friends/family or lack of activities that give you a purpose in life. At that point, alternative living arrangements can often provide that purpose not provided at home with a caregiver.

  • http://clearcareonline.com/ ClearCare

    Nursing homes provide quality care to many elderly and disabled individuals, but research proves the majority of people prefer home care.  When seniors are allowed to remain in their own homes, it affords them a sense of dignity and a better quality of life. Despite the many advantages of in-home care, many older ones are still being placed in nursing homes unnecessarily. Most in-home care agencies offer different levels of care, including lower-cost companion care.  Carefully review your family member’s insurance coverage to determine what level of care is covered.  Personal home care is available for those who need non-medical help with various aspects of daily living, and can give family caregivers a much-needed break. 

  • http://www.ryanmalone.com Ryan Malone

    Excellent points Chris.

  • http://www.TrustworthyCare.com/ Tim Colling

    I realize that this article is now over a year old, but it still contains excellent advice.  Most people would prefer to remain at home rather than have to move to a facility and give up the privacy, security and dignity of living in their own homes.  With intelligent design and, when needed, some assistance from in home care, remaining in their homes is certainly possible. 

  • http://www.lapwortharchitects.com/ Lapworth Architects

    Very interesting article the topic which is hot news at the moment…

    In The UK the figures are similar and over 80% of people prefer to die within their own houses…  The government however has called on local councils to help elderly homeowners move out of their homes…

    Please see: http://www.confused.com/news-views/blogs/should-the-elderly-downsize-homes-to-make-way-for-families

    I personally find this highly offensive!

  • http://www.insideeldercare.com/aging-in-place/make-your-elderly-parent-more-secure-at-home/ Make Your Elderly Parent More Secure At Home

    [...] deal with unusual or even emergency circumstances.  For these special cases, it’s a good idea to take preventative measures to make sure he or she will have the support they need—no matter [...]

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