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.
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.
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.
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:
Decorative stones or gravel
Automated sprinkler system
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:
TIP: Some 55+ communities will help with these, or hiring help may be an option.
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
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
Gym, pool, fitness center or walking area
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
Mental health providers
Home health care providers
Live music events or entertainment
University or lifelong learning opportunities
Senior activity centers
Beaches, rivers or lakes
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
Uber / Lyft
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.
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.
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
TIP: Look for flooring that will feel comfortable without throw rugs, which can be easy to trip over.
5. Bright Lighting
Ensure the house is well-lit throughout, with no dark hallways, corners or bathrooms.
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.
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.
TIP: A spacious bathroom is a must for accommodating walkers, wheelchairs, safety equipment and personal care aides.
7. Accessible Kitchens
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.
While money isn’t everything, it does bear consideration.
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:
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.
Ready Set Care is creating a community to provide guidance for anyone caring for an aging loved one.
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