IN YOUR PRIME: Aging in place key for many. ‘We can be here forever’

Aging in their homes is the preferred option for most adults.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Jim and Maureen Barone want to remain in their West Chester Township home for as long as they can, near family, friends and their backyard deck where they can enjoy a glass of wine and some music.

Home improvements are making that happen. Modifications such as adding a ramp, remodeling the master bathroom and widening doorways are lengthening their stay in the home they love.

“Now we have everything in place, where we can really be here forever,” said Jim Barone, 73.

The Barones are among the majority of older adults who want to age in place. According to a 2021 survey by AARP, 77 percent of adults ages 50 and older would prefer to live in their homes for as long as they can. However, about a third of all respondents said they may need to make changes to their home in order to do so.

Older adults should consider many things as they decide where to spend their years, said Douglas McGarry, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging, a nonprofit organization that serves nine counties in west central Ohio. Aging in place is one choice, but a retirement community or downsizing can sometimes be a better fit.

“Just as you look at a bigger house if you have a growing family, you might look at a smaller house if you have a shrinking family,” McGarry said.

First, they should consider if they actually like where they live, he said. Amenities that draw families to a house, such as a particular school system or a big yard, may not be needed any longer. In addition, they may have a disappearing support system if neighbors and nearby friends are relocating.

They also should determine if their current home will meet their future needs. Are there steps? Where is the laundry room? The bathroom? Can the home easily be remodeled? At what cost?

Talk to trusted friends who have downsized or remodeled, and find out what they would do differently, he suggested. Look ahead at just the next few years and stay flexible.

“No decision is permanent,” McGarry said. “One thing you can count on is that things will change.”

For adults who choose to remain in their homes, modifications can make their lives easier, said Erich Eggers, president of Remodeling Designs, Inc., a design/build home remodeling company based in Miamisburg.

Changes can be as simple as mounting a few grab bars and rearranging furniture, or as extensive as installing an elevator, he said.

“Sometimes it’s just enough to swap out a toilet for someone,” said Eggers, a certified aging-in-place specialist who noted that a toilet that is even one-inch taller can make sitting and standing much easier. Even an extra-thick toilet seat could do the trick.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Alterations to age in place are varied, he said, and include remodeling bathrooms, adding wheelchair ramps, creating first-floor bedrooms and replacing standard hinges with alternatives that prevent the obstruction of a doorway.

“Every situation is unique for people, and we try to accommodate the needs for the situation they’re in,” Eggers said.

When Eggers meets with clients, he learns more about them and their specific limitations, such as mobility issues, impairments and even their dominate hand.

Something as simple as a grab bar can be placed higher or lower than what clients find in, say, a restaurant bathroom, so he urges them to be open with their preferences and unembarrassed by their needs in order to get the best advice for their situation.

“When you’re working on someone’s home, you can totally customize for their needs,” he said.

Barone, a retired U.S. Air Force civilian executive who moved to his current home in 2009, has been paralyzed from the waist down since 1955, after having polio as a young boy. He relied mostly on braces and crutches to walk for decades but has used a wheelchair since a surgery several years ago.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Remodeling Designs made several modifications to his home, such as placing a ramp in the garage, widening several doorways and removing an island in the kitchen. A remodeled bathroom replaced an existing shower and spa tub with a vanity and barrier-free shower that has specially placed faucets better suited to his needs.

“Without that stuff, I’d have to be somewhere else,” he said.

Eggers said that it is never too early for homeowners to begin to think about how to age in place.

“They want the ability to be able to stay in their home as long as they can, in a safe way,” he said.

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