The last time you went house hunting you might have checked out school rankings, crime rates and commuting proximity to your job. While some of these criteria will no doubt remain important to you as you age, you also need to start thinking about whether the home and community where you're living today will still be right for you tomorrow. Some important tips to keep in mind:
Consider your future lifestyle.
As you think about where you might want to live in the years ahead, you should try to envision what kind of lifestyle you ideally will have in the future: Do you want to be able to walk, or at least take safe public transportation, to the supermarket, your doctor's office, the gym or your house of worship? Does your community have an active office on aging or senior citizen center that provides health services and social activities and helps with transportation, meals or home care if you need it? Find out what's available in your area by visiting Eldercare.gov.
Build a big support network.
Most Americans rely on family and friends to help with long-term care. But changing family dynamics — two-income households, cross-country moves for a much-needed job — mean it's not always possible for them to be available. So if you're counting on that kind of help, it's time for a candid conversation with everyone concerned to talk about their feelings and your options.
Even if you have a solid support network now, broaden it as much as possible. Get involved in community or voluntary organizations to help neighbors with home repairs, grocery shopping or getting to doctor's appointments. You'll not only be doing good now but also be strengthening programs in your area so they'll be there for you down the road. Find volunteer opportunities or start your own initiative through AARP's Create The Good campaign.
Learn about universal design.
If you haven't already heard about it, you should become familiar with the principles of universal design. The term refers to homes that are designed to allow people to live comfortably and easily, regardless of age or physical ability. Features of universal design include:
Bedrooms, kitchens and full bathrooms on the first floor.
Lower light switches and thermostat controls.
Door handles that are easy to open.
If you plan on staying in your home, start thinking about easy modifications you can make. Though they initially seem expensive, when you consider that living in an assisted living residence averages more than $3,000 per month, modifications suddenly sound a lot more reasonable. To learn about making sure your home remains safe and accessible, consult with a certified aging-in-place specialist. These professionals can help you figure out whether it makes sense to redesign your home to fit your new needs. You'll also find checklists and tips for hiring a reputable contractor at aarp.org's . Even if you're operating on a tight budget, AARP has several suggestions for simple, low-cost ways to make your home safer and more livable — including removing clutter, installing grab bars in showers and putting handrails on both sides of a stairway.
Know all your alternatives.
Around the country, neighbors who want to stay in their communities as they age are joining together to establish nonprofit, communal housing. In this "village" model, everyone pays a yearly fee, and the money is used to provide services as needs arise. Most villages offer transportation, home-delivered meals, routine housecleaning and referrals. Some are also adding concierge services, such as assistance with errands, pet sitting and trips.
Another idea gaining popularity — especially in this shaky economy — is home-sharing. Today, there are more than 100 programs around the country that match older homeowners with younger tenants. The programs run criminal and credit checks on prospective tenants, and help with drawing up rental agreements and settling disputes. You can find more information at National Shared Housing Resource Center.