Wednesday, June 7, 2017

"Happy Birthday, You Need To Move"

On a future birthday - age 65, 70, 75 ... - imagine getting a notice in the mail that says we are too old to live in our present home and that we need to immediately sell it or otherwise move from it because we can't remain living there. Let's home this never happens. There's no reason that it should, but it illustrates what aging in place is all about.

We get to stay where we are for as long as we like - even if we have taken no proactive or preventative steps that will enable out continuing to live there easier. We might need the assistance of a caregiver, medical professional, or family member to remain functioning in our home, but the act of living there should go on just because we want it.

The issue becomes how well suited our homes - and those of our clients - are to meet our needs as we grow older. Some people are going to be experiencing more age-related changes than others - vision, hearing, mobility, or cognitive.

The planners among us will take the necessary steps to insure that their homes are able to grow with them as they age or at least meet a minimum level or comfort and accessibility as they get ready to stay in their homes. There may not be a defining date for when aging in place began - a date that can be marked on the calendar and observed each year on that date as the anniversary of that decision. It maybe just happened, as often is the case. People simply realize that they like their current home and that they have been there several years already. They just keep going.

But what if the home was never planned to stay in long-term? It may have some inadequacies in terms of general access and navigation. It may have some areas that aren't lit that well - creating safety or comfort issues. They might be other safety issues from poor flooring choices long ago or from unintentional glare that results from furnishings in the home. In short, the home provides a dwelling but not the amount of safety, comfort, and convenience that it should to be livable on a continuing, long-term basis. This doesn't mean that anyone will moving out as a result. It just means that the home is not as desirable and functional as it could be with a little help.

Back to the issue of being booted from our homes because we have gotten too old to maintain them. At what age does this happen? It's different for everyone. We'd like to think as aging in place professionals that anyone who desires to remain living in their present home can do so indefinitely. This largely is true, and it is not dependent on them doing anything to their homes to improve the way they live or provide for the needs of their occupants. There does come a time when some people feel that they cannot remain at home and choose to leave. This is not forced upon them by any agency (themselves or family perhaps), and many resources are now available to help people remain at home even when the home is not that suitable physically for them.

The procrastinators among us - even those with progressive conditions - are waiting for their homes to somehow get better on their own or least not present any additional issues for using the fixtures and features within and in getting around in them. It's not a requirement that homes be improved to any baseline level in order to be lived in indefinitely. We would like to see a minimum level of performance, but we also know that this is not going to happen on a widespread basis. The more we can have a hand in making improvements, the better all will be.

Fortunately, people can remain at home and never fear getting that fateful letter telling them it's time to leave. Our challenge is help people (even those with limited means or knowledge about what can be done) to live more successful lives in their homes.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging In Place Specialist-Master Instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.