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Aging In Place: 5 Changes To Make to Your Home That Won’t Break The Bank

Many want to stay in place after retirement. Here's how


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Matt Chase

Ask someone over age 65 where they’d like to live for the rest of their lives, and chances are pretty good 9 out of 10 will tell you: Right here. In other words, at home, meaning the one they’re occupying right now. ​That’s according to AARP's Home and Community Preferences Survey. Unfortunately, only about 10 percent of homes nationwide are 100 percent prepared for senior living. That preparation includes a step-free entry, bed and bath on the first floor and at least one bathroom with safety and accessibility features like grab bars and a built-in shower seat.

​​The disconnect means that many people (more than 75 percent, ) will, in fact, age in places that are less than 100 percent prepared to welcome them. But, experts note, you can make several inexpensive and fairly easy changes to your homes that will make them safer and friendlier for aging in place. Here are four inexpensive ones and one pricier one that’s worth putting high on your list.

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​1. Consider the carpeting

“When you’re talking about living in your home as long as you’re physically able, the number one concern is safety,” said Mark Hager, founder of Ageinplace.com. “Your flooring matters.” 

​Rugs, he notes, are more of a hazard than carpeting – throw rugs, in particular. Get rid of them. If you’re unwilling to do that, look for carpet adhesive to attach them as securely as possible to the floor below.

​“In a perfect world, there would be no carpeting either,” he said, but since that’s unlikely, look at your nearby big box home stores for “beveled” transition strips that ease the way from carpeting to tile, linoleum or other surfaces. They range in price (depending on length and material) from about $10 to about $30.

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​2. Look to lighting

​The more natural light you can get into your home, the better. It’s not just helpful for seeing — but can be an important mood booster, particularly in the winter months. That may mean lightening up your drapes, painting walls in brighter colors or adding mirrors to reflect light around the room. It can also mean adding artificial light where you need it. Brighter, energy-efficient LED bulbs are an easy, inexpensive switch. According to Energy.gov, LEDs use 90 percent less energy and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent lights. Making the switch helps homeowners save typically $1,000 or more over 10 years, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Hager suggests installing motion sensor lights along your path from bed to the bathroom at night for safety. Light strips with sensors that go on the bottom of your bedrail and come on when your feet hit the ground are also available.

​​Would it work to link your lights to a smart speaker, I asked, so that you can say, for example, “Alexa bedroom on.”

​“Unfortunately, many people get to a point where they don’t remember as well, so recalling the specific commands may be an issue,” Hager responded.

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​3. Elevate for ease

​When it comes to furniture — think couches, chairs, even beds – there comes a time when getting out becomes more difficult than getting in. When you’re sitting down on a couch, for example, gravity helps. But trying to get up, not so much. One way to make it easier is to raise the furniture by adding risers to couches, chairs or beds. Many of these are on the market, starting around $15. Just make sure you buy sturdy ones for the task you need them to do. Even better, hire an occupational therapist for an at-home consultation to help you figure out how much you should be elevating your pieces.

​Look at your laundry room with similar eyes.

​“When you start to have trouble with your equilibrium, taking clothes in and out of the washer and dryer can become an issue. If you put the machines on a pedestal, you can sit in front and take the clothes out of one and put them into the other,” Hager said. This only works with top-loading washers, however.

​“If you have a front loader, keep that on the ground and just elevate the dryer. But if and when you need to replace that washer, a front loader on a pedestal is a perfect solution,” he said.

​4. Declutter the design

​Here’s a tip that isn’t going to cost you anything — in fact, do it right, and you may be able to pad your budget for the other fixes you’re trying to make. One of the most important things to do to a home you’re looking to age in is to create clear pathways to move. That means eliminating the stuff that’s sitting in them now. If you have extra side tables, coffee tables, bookshelves, pieces of furniture or other things simply taking up space, get rid of them. It may not be easy, particularly if you amassed collections of things that have value to you, but it may be profitable.

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​When it comes to furniture that’s in good shape, consider selling it via Kaiyo, a secondhand furniture marketplace. Go to the website, tell them what you have and if it's a brand or item they’re interested in. They’ll pick it up and give you your cut when it sells. If you have items that are in decent shape, you can arrange for pickup by Purple Heart or Green Drop. You can also try to sell them via a local Facebook group or give them away via freecycle.org or your nearest buy nothing group, which is a network of groups that pass stuff on rather than buying things. These groups are on Facebook.

​5. Take on the tub

​Finally, if you have a budget to devote to retooling your space, the place to spend it first is in your bathroom. More accidents happen in the bathroom than in any other place — in the home or out, Hager said. If you have a few hundred dollars, spend them on grab bars (not suction grab bars, Hager cautions) that you have professionally installed. You need one in front of the toilet, another next to the toilet, one to support you as you get into the shower and another one or two in the shower itself. An occupational therapist can help with the placement of these.

​If you’ve got a budget of $10,000 to $15,000 or more, consider a bathroom renovation that includes ripping out the tub and replacing it with a shower with a built-in seat and, yes, those grab bars.

​“If the money keeps you in the house another 10 years, it’s worth it,” Hager said.​

Share your experience: What modifications have you made to your home to help you age in place? Tell us in the comments below.

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