Nationwide, more than 10,000 people reach the retirement age of 65 each day. And if current trends continue, the senior citizen demographic will outpace the number of children in the U.S. by 2030. While it can be excellent news that Americans are living longer, extended lifespans do bring up several issues, one of which being: where and how will all of these older people live?
As we age, we come to expect cognitive and physical changes. After all, 35 million men experience some level of hair loss or baldness throughout the U.S., with countless others enduring all kinds of bodily challenges. Nursing homes and retirement communities have been popular options for seniors who need some extra help and who want additional social stimulation, but many seniors have decided to explore more comfortable alternatives in recent years.
Despite the fact developers of senior housing have made major efforts to develop better facilities for aging generations, it’s clear that’s not really what seniors (or soon-to-be seniors) want. Thanks to perceived convenience and cost savings, aging in place has become the ideal for many older folks. In fact, more than three-quarters of Americans over the age of 50 now say they’d prefer to live within their current communities — and their existing homes — for as long as possible. Rather than downsize to a condo or apartment (which are housing units that 95% of pest professionals report treating for bed bugs) or pay into a senior community, older folks would much rather stay put. As a result, the Wall Street Journal is now reporting that the “aging in place” movement will likely throw a major wrench in the senior housing industry.
Senior housing isn’t going away completely, of course. Many people may not have the option of aging in place, often due to more severe physical or cognitive limitations or waiting too long to make necessary changes. Since roughly 75% of Americans experience foot health problems at some point, mobility can be an issue that forces some Americans out of their homes to more accessible living situations. And if a senior requires round-the-clock care, some families may find it’s more economically sound to move their loved one into a facility and sell their loved one’s property. Most often, families make this difficult decision when their loved one has dementia. About 64% of people aged 65 and up in nursing homes have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. In these cases, families tend to find moving to a nursing home is a better option than undertaking home renovations and hiring outside help.
However, aging in place is often a viable choice if you plan ahead and make the right adjustments to your residence. Approximately 83% of homeowners choose a new roof based on longevity, and that factor should be high on your list when zeroing in on renovations for aging in place. You’ll need to think in the long term if you want to remain at home into your twilight years. Bathrooms and kitchens tend to have the most hazards and inconveniences for older folks, which means these spaces will need to be prioritized. Making sure pathways are clear and spacious can prevent falls and ensure seniors with mobility aids can safely navigate throughout the room, while non-slip flooring options (with no rugs) should be prioritized. In the kitchen, electric stovetops with unraised burners are better for cleaning and fire prevention, while countertops should have rounded edges and include multiple levels to ensure accessibility. Bathrooms, on the other hand, should feature grab bars or handrails and accessible bathtubs and showers. Throughout the home, adequate lighting is a must. And if your home has more than one story, you’ll certainly need a safe way for occupants to get up and down the stairs without the risk of injury.
Keep in mind that these home improvements won’t come cheap. According to a report published by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, the majority of senior homeowners who can afford to make these kinds of improvements pay for those projects out of their savings. Some of the most expansive aging-in-place renovation projects can cost hundreds of thousands, depending on the home’s location. And since a recent survey conducted by SCAN (formerly the Senior Care Action Network) found that 60% of seniors have less than $10,000 in savings, including retirement plans and investments, it’s clear that some older folks simply won’t have the financial means to remain at home in a safe environment.
Still, the dislike of senior housing alternatives (which come with their own cost burdens) might be enough to convince homeowners in their 40s and 50s to start budgeting and renovating with time to spare. By not waiting until retirement to make those housing decisions, seniors may be afforded a more comfortable lifestyle and fewer financial worries later in life. Overall, there’s no easy choice here. But since the preference for most American seniors is to remain where they are, it’s at least a good idea to start thinking ahead and remodeling a home before you need to.