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How to Choose A Home For A Senior

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Become Familiar with Independent Senior Living Options 

Some of the top options for seniors who don’t wish to move into a facility include aging in place in their own home, living with a family member, joining an age-restricted community or moving into a continuing care retirement community. 

The first step toward finding the right home for your senior loved one is to review the pros and cons of these options. You'll want to consider what type of home your loved one wants, as well as their price range and wishlist.  

 

1. Aging in Place: An older adult stays in their current home, modifying it to address any mobility issues. This can be a good choice for those who value privacy, independence or feel a strong emotional attachment to their current home, but there may be a higher risk of loneliness or isolation without a strong support network.

    • Plan to bring health care professionals into the home whenever possible to address needs for assistance. 
    • It helps to have a supportive community and family or friends nearby.
    • Living with Family: These days, more seniors are moving in with their adult children. There are a lot of benefits to multigenerational living, but sometimes it can be hard on relationships. 
    • Look for homes that meet everyone’s needs, and allow for each to have their own personal space. 

 

TIP: Some homes are designed for multigenerational or shared living. Some of these homes share a roof, but have separate entrances, bathrooms, kitchen facilities and living areas. Other properties include separate, free-standing “mother-in-law” quarters.

 

2. 55+ Age-Restricted Community: Residents must be over 55 years old. These communities may take different forms, such as condominiums, townhouses, apartments or mobile home communities. 

    • These communities offer easy ways to connect with neighbors.
    • Their buildings are usually designed to be accessible for seniors or people with limited mobility.
    • They often take care of maintenance or landscaping. 
    • They do not usually provide assistance with health care, personal care or mobility care. Plan to hire help into the home, or move to a facility, if needed in the future.

 

TIP: Some age-restricted communities are designated for particular groups, such as LGBTQ or different religions or cultures. Look for a place where your loved one will feel a sense of comfort and belonging.

 

3. Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC): CCRCs offer independent living for seniors, along with an assortment of other levels of care. If someday your loved one needs additional help, assisted living, skilled nursing or memory care, CCRCs are designed for an easy transition with minimal disruption. 

    • Most CCRCs try to foster social connections and help seniors stay active throughout the aging process.
    • They can be good choices for seniors who wish to avoid living with family later in their life.
    • Some can require a high initial “buy-in” fee. 

 

Consider Your Loved One’s Lifestyle Now – and Later

The next step in finding the right home is to consider your loved one’s lifestyle now, and what it may look like in the future. Below are some tips for when you're house-hunting.

 

1. Identify what’s most important to your loved one.

Most seniors eventually have to let go of some of their activities and interests. Plan ahead so they can enjoy those that are nearest and dearest to their heart as long as possible. 

 

Activities: What gives your loved one’s life purpose and meaning?

      • Think about your loved one’s daily routine and go through their calendar. Make a list of the activities they do each day, week, month and year.

        • Rate each activity’s importance on a scale of 1-5 to get a sense of how important it is to them to continue.

        • Consider what they might do more often if it was more convenient. For example, would they start swimming if they moved somewhere with a pool, or go for walks if there was a nice place to do so

 

Visits from Friends or Family: Is having friends or family members visit a big part of your loved one’s life? This could impact the number of bedrooms your loved one is looking for. 

      • Entertaining guests: Make sure there is enough room to accommodate visitors comfortably.

      • Overnight guests: A guest room may be an important investment, or out-of-town visitors may be able to stay at a nearby hotel. 

TIP: A guest room opens up the possibility of sharing the home with a live-in attendant or family member in exchange for help around the house.

      • Visiting grandchildren: Apartment style living may be stressful with rambunctious young houseguests.

        • Look for kid-friendly spaces, such as a yard or at least a nearby park or playground. 

        • Age-restricted 55+ communities may have rules about young visitors. 

TIP: Keep family and friends within a one hour drive to ensure they can still see them with some regularity. If your loved one will rely more heavily on their assistance, it may be essential to stay even closer.

 

Yard, Garden and Outdoor Time: Spending time outdoors is an important part of many older adults’ lives, but taking care of a yard is sometimes too much. 

        • Yard, patio or balcony space

          • Is a yard a necessity, or would a patio or balcony suffice?

          • Look for low maintenance landscaping:

            • Native plantlife

            • Decorative stones or gravel

            • Automated sprinkler system

        • Gardening

          • Could a container garden work for their needs? 

          • Some 55+ senior living communities have garden plots available to rent.

TIP: Look for safe places to walk nearby, and areas that your loved one could easily get to if they wanted to spend time among plants, trees or nature.

 

Pets: Pet companionship is a wonderful source of socialization and taking care of an animal is a very important activity that adds meaning to many seniors’ lives! Finding a home that will accommodate your loved one’s precious pet – or perhaps open the door for a new furry companion – should be a priority, if possible.

      • Is there an area for the pet’s needs?

        • Whether it's a corner for a cat box, or a small yard or walking path for the dog, be sure your loved one’s new home is big enough for both of them.

      • Are pets allowed?

        • Check with the Homeowners’ Association, or the management of the community as applicable to be sure pets are welcome.

 

2. Identify potential barriers to community living

Senior communities may come with amenities like a pool, fitness room or built-in social scene, but may not be a good fit for seniors who:

    • Listen to television or music loudly

    • Are bothered by others’ noise or commotion

    • Prefer not to follow community rules

 

3. Identify who will help with maintenance

While some seniors enjoy working in the yard or garden, others don’t or can’t. If they can’t now, or later lose the ability to do so, identify who will step in to help with:

    • Maintenance

    • Housekeeping

    • Yard work

    • Snow removal

TIP: Some 55+ communities will help with these, or hiring help may be an option.  

 

 

Find the Right Area

 

1. Neighbors and Community: Social connection is an important part of healthy aging. 

Look for a home, neighborhood or community where your loved one can easily interact and connect with others who may share:

    • A cultural group

    • A common language

    • Religious or spiritual beliefs and practices

    • Compatible political views

    • Common interests 

TIP: Ask or consider whether they prefer more exposure to diversity or to a community of like-minded individuals.

 

2. Proximity to the Essentials: Look for close proximity and convenient transportation to those things that people can’t do without.

 

Day to Day Needs

      • Grocery store

      • Bank

      • Gym, pool, fitness center or walking area

 

Health Care

Regardless of your loved one’s health now, it’s likely that they’ll need more health care as time goes on. Aim to settle within a 20-30 minute drive of good health care, including:

      • Hospital or medical center

      • Primary care physicians

      • Specialists

      • Mental health providers

      • Dental care

      • Home health care providers

 

Meaningful Activities 

For example:

      • Live music events or entertainment

      • Arts, museums

      • Retail outlets

      • Farmer’s markets

      • Libraries

      • Civic organizations

      • University or lifelong learning opportunities

      • Senior activity centers

      • Golf courses

      • Wineries

      • Hiking

      • Beaches, rivers or lakes

      • Volunteer opportunities

      • Airport (for travel or frequent out-of-town guests)

 

Transportation: Familiarize yourself with transportation options available to your loved one in the new home. If they still drive now, consider which options will be available if they no longer could.

      • Friends and family

      • Non-emergency medical transportation services

      • Church volunteer

      • Home care

      • Uber / Lyft

      • Taxi

      • Bus

TIP: Delivery options can be a convenient choice when driving is a challenge, but in some cases, grocery shopping is an important outing in a senior’s life. If so, make a shopping date or hire a home care aide to take them shopping.

 

Look for Age-Friendly Design

When searching for a home that’s set up for successful aging in place, look for the following features:

 

1. Single Level Living

Ideally, there’s no second story at all, but if there is, be sure your loved one’s bedroom, bathroom and living area are the ground floor.

 

1. Avoid steps and stairs. 

      • Don’t forget to check the front walkway, the patio and garage. 

      • If steps are present, make sure there are two stair-free exits at minimum.

 

2. Look for no-threshold entryways.

      • Thresholds should be no more than a half-inch in height.

TIP: Small threshold ramps can be added if necessary to prevent tripping and make entryways walker and wheelchair-friendly.

 

2. Wide, Open Floor Plans

Maneuvering with a walker or wheelchair is tough enough without navigating narrow passageways.  

 

1. Look for wide hallways and doorways.

      • 40-inch hallways

      • 36-inch doorways

 

2. Find an open floor plan.

      • Avoid tight spaces

      • Look for a 5-foot turning radius in the kitchen

      • Large bedroom with plenty of room to maneuver around, even with bed and furniture in place

TIP: Large, open floor plans allow for furniture to be rearranged as needed for changes in health, mobility, hearing or vision.

 

3. Slip and Trip-Free Flooring

    • Non-slip vinyl flooring is a good option for bathrooms and kitchens. It’s durable, easy to maintain and has some padding built-in to minimize shock in the event of a fall.

    • Non-slip texture coating on decks or patios

    • Wall-to-wall carpet

TIP: Look for flooring that will feel comfortable without throw rugs, which can be easy to trip over.

 

4. Easy-to-Use Amenities

    • Twist-free faucets
    • Pull-out spout in the kitchen sink 
    • Lever-style door knobs
    • Remote-control or easy-open blinds and windows
    • Avoid narrow toggle light switches. Opt for flat-panel “rocker” light switches, or motion sensor lighting instead.

 

5. Bright Lighting

Ensure the house is well-lit throughout, with no dark hallways, corners or bathrooms. 

    • Look for lots of natural lighting – large windows, skylights or solar tubes.
    • Plenty of task lighting, especially in the kitchen and bathroom vanity.
    • “Layered lighting” provides a selection of ambient, focal and task lighting. 

TIP: Higher electrical outlets at 22 inches are easier to reach than standard 12-18 inch ones.

 

6. Accessible Bathrooms

Pay special attention to the bathroom, which can be one of the most essential – and dangerous – areas in the home.

 

Shower:

      • Look for a large zero-clearance shower with nothing to step over
      • Allow plenty of room to accommodate a shower chair and an attendant, which may be needed at some point in the future
      • Sturdy grab bars
      • Handheld showerhead

TIP: Walk-in seated tubs can be nice, but can’t substitute for a walk-in shower. Walk-in tubs can make it difficult for an attendant to help with bathing, and can be unsafe for people with poor mobility. There are lifts available for standard, flat-bottom bathtubs that can make them accessible. Note that most tub lifts don’t work well with fiberglass, textured, sloped or abnormally-shaped bathtubs. 

 

Toilet:

      • At 17-19 inches, comfort-height (or “right-height”) toilets are usually easier to get up from, although shorter seniors may prefer the standard 15 inch toilets.
      • Look for a grab bar, or plenty of room around the toilet to add supportive equipment like a transfer pole or toilet rails, later, if needed. 

TIP: A spacious bathroom is a must for accommodating walkers, wheelchairs, safety equipment and personal care aides.

 

7. Accessible Kitchens

 

Storage:

      • Look for a large pantry with a wide door and shelving that can easily be reached
      • Avoid deep cabinets
      • Avoid low cabinets which can be hard to manage. Opt instead for lower-level drawers or pull-out shelves on rollers. Be sure they’re strong enough to handle heavy pots or dishes.

 

Countertops:

      • Multi-level (or fold-out) countertops accommodate a variety of needs, from grandkids to wheelchairs.
      • Avoid bar-height countertops if possible. Opt instead for countertops at 29-30 inches, which will work best with dining chairs or wheelchairs

 

Appliances:

      • Look for a range that features controls in the front to avoid having to reach over hot pots.
      • A dishwasher raised 12 inches from the ground reduces the need to bend.
      • Raised front-loading washers and dryers are easier to access without bending.

TIP: Some smart appliances can alert people if they’ve been left on too long. Smart sensors or timers can monitor house systems and send you alerts about potential problems. Heat-monitoring faucets can help prevent burns to fragile skin.

 

NOTE: Think about how accessibility will impact your loved one's home-buying process. 

    • If a potential home is lacking one of these accessible features, consider how much money the renovations will cost. 
    • Will renovations help or hurt the home's value? 
    • The right house might be one that already has renovations installed 

 

Consider the Financial Implications

While money isn’t everything, it does bear consideration. 

  • Look at the cost of living in the area. How do they compare with your loved one’s current expenses?
  • Are there any Homeowners’ Association Fees to factor in?
  • Look at tax rates in the area
    • Property taxes
    • Income taxes
    • Sales taxes
    • Investment income taxes
    • Estate or inheritance taxes
  • Meet with an estate planning advisor and tax advisor for guidance.

 

You can use a mortgage calculator to help calculate your loved one's mortgage payment. A real estate agent or realtor should also be able to help you understand the down payment,  mortgage rates, interest rates, closing costs, and monthly payment. 

 

Experts recommend buying less than you can afford in case of unforeseen circumstances, such as changes in health.

 

NOTE: It's important to consider whether home ownership is right for your loved one. A new house is a big responsibility that may be overwhelming for an older loved one. 

 

Once you have the data it can help to review it in all in one place by creating:

  • A spreadsheet detailing the financial implications 
  • A pros and cons list

TIP: Use a weighted pro-con list when all items are not equally important. Assign each item a value between 1-5 based on its importance. Instead of counting the number of pros and cons, add up their values.

 

Remember: There is no such thing as the perfect home. Most people don't get everything they envision their dream home to be. There may be some cons associated with each option, so when all is said and done, ultimately, go with the choice that intuitively feels right.

 

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