Home modifications: We think we don’t need them, until not having them holds us back.
When people think of home modifications, some images may immediately come to mind. The first may be of an elderly, frail, and sickly person. The second image might be of a person (old or young) in a wheelchair. Another image may be of various pieces of hospital-looking equipment such as a hard plastic disc that sits on top of a toilet; bright, unattractive, silvery grab bars; or an uncomfortable twin bed with full length side rails.
These images all conjure unpleasant thoughts of disability, dysfunction and loss of independence. But, that isn’t the way it has to be.
While it is true that modifying the home to improve accessibility is necessary and often vital for some individuals to be able to remain in their homes, one does not have to be in a state of crisis to think about making home modifications. Consider the following.
What people want vs. what they have
Most people have a desire to remain in their homes as they grow older. It’s true that other options exist such as downsizing or moving to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), but the majority of those age 60 and over want to stay put. Home is a source of comfort. We know and understand our home, and have our community of friends and neighbors. We have often raised our families there. There are many reasons to want to stay. Although people want to remain in their homes as they grow older, most do not do anything to make that a real possibility.
The current housing stock in the United States was not designed for 60, 70, or 80 year old people. There are stairs to enter the home and within the home; doorways are narrow; the laundry is in the basement; the bathroom (which has a tub) is on the second floor of the home. Our bodies are going to change as we age (arthritis, vision changes, hearing loss), but those homes aren’t going to change with us unless we change them!
Prepare for Your Future (and make your life easier at the same time!)
Planning for the future is not an uncommon concept to most people. We begin planning financially for our future long before we retire (hopefully!). We use programs such as 401k’s and 403b’s to do this; putting away a little of our paycheck every month so that when we stop working full time, we will have planned adequately to have enough money to sustain us in later life. We also plan for accidents.
I know that doesn’t sound right at first read, but we do. Through all types of insurance, we plan for accidents that may or may not happen. We have home owner’s or renter’s insurance, car insurance, and health insurance. These accidents or unfortunate events may never occur, but we know that it is wise to have insurance just in case something unexpected does happen.
Why aren’t home modifications done?
So, why is it that so many of us don’t plan for our future when it comes to our homes? As I noted above, research has demonstrated that the majority of those age 60 and older want to stay in their homes into the future, yet those same individuals do not make any modifications to their homes to improve the chances of that actually occurring. I have spoken with many people about this topic and below are their reasons for not making modifications.
- I don’t know what changes to make.
- I don’t need any changes because I am doing just fine (thank you very much).
- I am concerned that a modification will negatively impact the resale value of my home.
- Home modifications are costly and I don’t have the financial resources to pay for them.
These are real concerns that people have about home modifications. I’d like to address each of these briefly.
Unsure of changes to make
Many times when people tell me that they don’t know what changes to make to their homes it is because they think they have to try to predict what will happen to them in the future in order to know what changes or modifications to make. There are a number of modifications that are beneficial to the majority of people (young and old alike) that transcend a specific illness or accident.
These are modifications that can prevent illness or accident. They include having the right grab bars installed properly in the shower, adding a second handrail to stairs, and increasing lighting on stairs. These simple changes improve safety and ability and prevent falls which is a leading source of disability in those over 60.
Home modifications are for the disabled
Some people have the misconception that home modifications are only for people who have a significant disability. So, if they don’t fall into this category and are basically doing everything around their home they need to do, home modifications are not for them. Actually, home modifications could help these individuals in at least two different ways.
A modification could make those daily household tasks easier (think installing a pull out drawer in a lower cabinet to reach items easily rather than getting down on hands and knees to reach the pot in the back of the cabinet) and a modification could provide the opportunity for that person to re-engage in an activity they had given up because it became too difficult. This happens to people without them even thinking too much about it. When something becomes too difficult or painful, they simply stop doing it.
Worried about home resale
Resale of the home is a concern for many. We don’t want ourselves or our adult children to be burdened with a house that has depreciated in value. Twenty years ago, when many home modification products were very institutional looking, this was more of a problem.
Today, manufacturers of many of these ‘home improvement’ items have gotten the message that people want products that make them safer in their homes and make life easier, but they want these products to be aesthetically pleasing. As a result, there are now grab bars, hand held shower heads, and shower seats (just a few examples) that are pretty and are a nice addition to any bathroom.
Depending on the scope of your home modification project, cost will vary. A kitchen renovation designed to change counters and appliances to achieve wheelchair accessibility will require a financial investment. Other modifications such as installing a grab bar or extra handrail on the basement stairs, will be less costly.
Modifications aren’t typically paid for by Medicare although some Medicare Advantage plans are considering covering home modifications in the future. Some states offer loans or other funding to individuals of a certain age and/or income level. Reverse mortgages can also be used to help pay for home modifications. There are options.
How Does Your Home Need to Change?
If you are one of the majority of people who want to stay in his or her own home for years to come, the time to start planning for it is now. Start by taking an objective look around your home to determine what changes you could make to improve your safety and make the chores and activities you do in your home easier. There are a number of home safety checklists you can download for free to help you start this process.
One such checklist is the Caregiving Checklist developed by AARP. Complete your checklist and start thinking about what modifications you might need to make your dream of staying in your home a reality.
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