Aging in Place - An Effective Plan For Baby Boomers
It shouldn't be a shock to anyone that our population is aging. The biggest cohort, baby boomers (1946-1964), are starting to replace their parents, the GI generation (1901-1924) & Mature Generation (1925-1945) as the eldest cohort in Canada. Baby Boomers make up 25.9% of the Canadian population and by 2030 all Baby Boomers will be 65 or older. With such a large percentage of the Canadian population entering retirement, decisions on how and where they live will have a huge impact on Real Estate and ancillary industries.
Aging in place has been a hot topic for a number of years. A large proportion of the population will be looking to downsize and move into bungalows, condos or retirement communities which will put a strain on these types of resources. Some of the reasons people have to move are changes in mobility and ability to maintain the home. One solution referred to as "aging in place", is to encourage people to remain in their homes longer by making it a safe and secure setting. But what needs to be in place to allow this to work effectively?
I break aging in place down into two segments: aging in the community and aging in the home.
Aging in community/neighborhood:
Depending on the community you currently live in, there may be options to simply find a more suitable residence that accommodates your changing needs. However, if the community is not suitable you should look at relocating to one that provides a safe environment with services and support.
When assessing the community to see if it is appropriate, look around to make sure that the side walks are accessible and safe. Do they have the barrier free slopes that meet the roadways or are they the older curb style? The side walks should lead to stores and other places you may want to walk to. The community should have a range of housing options such as apartments, bungalows, or even affordable housing options for seniors with limited income. Having a range of housing options will allow you to transition more easily within the neighborhood in case your housing needs change. You should drive around and assess the roadways. Are they safe with adequate street lighting and clearly marked signage? Are the speed zones lower to make it safer for both driving and walking. How far are shopping centers? To make sure the community will provide for current and future needs there should be medical/dental offices, pharmacies and grocery stores nearby.
Do a survey of your current neighborhood or one that you are looking to move into. If it has the features listed above it is probably one that will allow you to age in place more comfortably and for longer.
Aging in the home:
Some homes are more well suited for aging in place then others. There is a growing trend in new construction to build homes so that they are more usable by all people to the greatest extent possible. Many newer homes that feature these "Universal Design" concepts allow aging in place more effectively then older homes built before 2000.
When assessing your current or future home to see if it is suitable to remain for future years, look to see if there are elements that present risk such as structural problems, steep stairs, or lack of handrails. Can doors, hallways, bathrooms, and kitchens accommodate walkers or wheelchairs? Carpet is usually not appropriate for walkers or wheelchairs; can this be easily changed? Is the house a larger home with a big yard which would take lots of time and energy to maintain? View the home from the outside; is it easy to enter and exit in case of emergency or change in mobility? Steep driveways, lots of stairs, or apartments without elevators and handicap accessible entrances should be avoided.
There are many adaptations you can make to your home to make it more befitting of aging in place. Stair lifts, hand rails, bath bars are a few common items added to homes to allow someone to live there longer. Bathrooms can be renovated to allow for walk in or roll in showers and toilets can be changed or raised to allow for easier transfer. Kitchens too can be changed with pull-out shelves and counters can be adapted to accommodate different heights. These are only a small sampling of changes that can be made. A house with a layout that could allow a person to live on single floor is a great choice for aging in place.
Before making these changes you need to assess your home to see if it is practical to make some of these small changes or if the changes are so drastic or the current layout so poor that it only makes sense to move. A Realtor with a SRES designation (Seniors Real Estate Specialist) along with an Occupational Therapist can help assess your home to provide you with recommendations and insight on what is practical and what is not.
By assessing both the community and the house for these key criteria will allow you to make a decision on whether to stay in your current home or move to one more suitable. With the right information you can make a choice that will be longer lasting and limit the number of future moves you have to do.
About the author: Peter M Leveille is a licensed real estate agent and Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He has been selling real estate for 15 years and is the Broker and Owner of AB Realty LTD.