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Can You Afford to Age in Place?

costs of aging in place
The costs for home modifications that allow older adults to age in place can add up quickly.
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According to an AARP study, 90 percent of people age 65 and over would prefer to stay in their own homes as they get older — and not go to a nursing home or assisted living facility.

But if you or your parents are buying, building or renovating a home to accommodate the needs of a loved one, what kind of costs can you expect to incur?

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Here are some financial facts you need to know when considering purchasing or making over a property for you to age in place or to live with parents under the same roof.

Understanding two key concepts

Before we delve into each expense you might incur from renovating a home, it's crucial to understand two concepts: "aging in place" and "universal design."

Aging in place is defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as "the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level."

costs of aging in place - One step-free entrance
Having a step-free entrance makes it easy to safely enter and leave a home.
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What this means for you and your loved ones is that a home must be built to ensure that every facet of life is considered. Oversights can lead to injuries, sickness, discomfort and avoidable fatalities.

Known to builders, architects and others involved in the construction of residences, "universal design" is a concept for building, designing or remodeling a home so it's more comfortable, convenient, safer and easier for people of all generations to use, especially the elderly.

You may have noticed universal design incorporated in public places or residences already. Things as subtle as handrails or as obvious as accessibility ramps are real-world examples of universal design.

costs of aging in place - Signage
A large house number sign can be easily read by paramedics and other emergency responders.
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Converting your home, especially older homes that weren't initially designed in this way, might seem intimidating. After all, knocking down walls and living in a house under renovations can have drawbacks to your quality of life.

This is especially true for those on a limited budget who don't want to retrofit every aspect of their home. Furthermore, universal design has only been a popular topic since the mid-1960s — homes built before then may be lacking in amenities for aging in place.

However, universal design isn't a fixed concept; instead, you are cultivating a mind-set that anticipates the needs of a home's occupants, accommodating declining health and mitigating potential hazards.

Changes don't necessarily need to be expensive or labor intensive. With a little forethought, you can avoid expensive remodels.

Here are seven key universal design features that will affect your wallet.

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1. Nonslip flooring

A slip-and-fall incident is one of the most common ways that seniors injure themselves.

costs of aging in place - Non-slip flooring
Install non slip flooring in the bathroom, where more than one-third of all injuries to older adults occur.
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More than one-third of injuries among older adults occur in the bathroom, so make a bathroom's flooring a priority by choosing nonslip material. Your choice of flooring must also be easy to clean in order to maintain a healthy environment.

A number of materials provide traction and cushion, including nonslip vinyl, rubber flooring and cork, which is typically less than $3 per square foot. Cheaper solutions, such as slip-resistant rugs for around $10 to $15 apiece, may be more cost effective for those on a budget.

The National Aging in Place Council maintains a complete rundown of nonslip flooring options.

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2. Slip-resistant shower and tub surfaces

costs of aging in place - Non-slip shower and tub surfaces
Non-slip bath mats are an affordable way to create safer bathroom surfaces.
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Like flooring, showers and tubs pose an ever-present threat for older residents. Luckily, a number of affordable solutions get the job done. These include nonslip bath mats with suction cups for only $10 or so, nonslip sprays that typically run $20 to $30 and water-resistant adhesives that cost about $40 to $50.

3. Shower and tub design

costs of aging in place - Shower and tub design
A low-rise shower with a no-step entry is ideal for those aging in place.
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The shower and bath must be accessible for those aging in place. To accommodate mobility issues and wheelchair access, a low-rise shower with a no-step entry is ideal. Be aware that shower-and-bath combination stalls may require a lot of time and effort for installation. They can also cost upward of $1,000.

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4. Wide doorways

costs of aging in place - wide doorways
Wide doorways allow wheelchairs to easily pass through.
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If you plan to age in place, consider widening doorways and replacing existing doors with larger ones: 32 to 36 inches wide is the recommended width for allowing a wheelchair to pass through easily. For less than $100 in materials cost, you can replace the door with a larger one and doorjambs.

5. Lever door handles

costs of aging in place - Lever door handles
Lever door handles are easier to operate than doorknobs.
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As we age, our grip strength may be reduced significantly. Replacing doorknobs with a lever door handle — for around $20 to $25 — is a low-cost solution and can also ensure access and privacy to the rooms of the home.

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6. One step-free entrance

Stairs present a number of challenges. Being able to enter and leave a home without difficulty is essential for ensuring that you or your loved ones can maintain their independence while staying safe.

Having at least one step-free entrance for the home can be a costly renovation. Depending on the materials and style chosen, this modification can run anywhere from about $1,000 to $4,000, according to HomeAdvisor, which tracks home repair prices nationwide. Despite the cost, a step-free entrance can significantly add to quality of life and may be a true necessity, especially for single people aging in place.

7. Signage

Every second matters in an emergency. One overlooked aspect of aging in place is having obvious address signage outside the front of your home so paramedics and other emergency personnel can respond immediately. Large-size house numbers and mail box numbers you can see in the dark can make a difference between life and death. Fortunately, such signage is relatively inexpensive, costing about $20 to $40.

Of course, there are more than just seven ways to optimize a home to accommodate you or other aging family members. If you will be living with your parents, other optimal (but optional) multigenerational housing features include:

  • Main-floor bedroom suites for the oldest family members
  • Private kitchenettes and living spaces
  • A one-story home without stairs (that is, no second level)
  • Extra floor space — everyone feels less cramped and the additional space is better for people in wheelchairs.

Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, the Money Coach, is a personal finance expert, television and radio personality, and regular contributor to AARP.org. You can follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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