More than 13 percent of the American population is over 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2030, that number will grow to nearly 20 percent.
With the changes in healthcare and lifestyle, Baby Boomers are living better and longer than their predecessors. They are active and involved in their communities. Many continue to work past their retirement. And as they age, they are choosing to do so in their homes.
It’s a trend that will likely continue in the near future, says Deborah Pierce, architect and author of “The Accessible Home: Designing for All Ages and Abilities” (Taunton Press, 2012).
“Nursing homes are no longer a viable option like they were a few decades ago,” Pierce says. “People are more fit, and there’s a growing interest in aging in place.”
A recent survey by AARP shows that nine out of 10 older people and eight out of 10 Baby Boomers want to stay in their homes as long as possible. They are embarking on projects to remodel their homes to accommodate their changing lifestyle.
“The primary reason is they want to be near friends and family,” says Nancy Thompson, spokeswoman for the AARP. “The image that people move when they retire to Florida and Arizona are inaccurate. Some people do that, but for the most part, Baby Boomers will turn the suburbs gray.”
According to the National Association for Realtors, seniors who decide to move do so when their existing home becomes a liability because of size and accessibility issues.
“They move into a smaller home – single-level living – which is easier to maintain,” says Walter Molony, spokesman for NAR. “What we see is some people buy vacation homes and condos in warmer climates, which they turn into retirement homes in the future.”
Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a retirement home or upgrading your current home to fit your needs. Accessibility and openness, or “universal design,” are the key elements, experts say. Your home should be a welcoming and safe place for everyone, including a toddler, a mother with a stroller or an older person in a wheelchair.
• Make entrances accessible: Install ramps and grab bars leading into the home. Steps pose a hurdle for people on wheelchairs or with a cane. Get rid of steps where you can, Pierce says. Install security features – useful features include intercoms and biometric systems, such as the one that uses the retina as a key for access.
• Widen the doorways: Doorways and hallways should be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. Replace doorknobs with handles. Many seniors suffer from arthritis. Turning knobs could get painful and difficult after a while.
• Remodel your bathroom: Many accidents happen in the bathroom. That’s a huge area for improvement, Pierce says. To prevent injury from falling, install grab bars and slip-free and step-free showers, says Stephen Melman, director of economic services at National Association for Homebuilders. Install rounded corners in the vanity and lever faucets. Clear up enough space so you have plenty of room to move between the tub and the toilet. The doorway should be wide enough to allow a wheelchair to pass through. Open up the bathroom so it can allow you (and your caregiver, if necessary) to move around freely.
• Bring everything down to one level. If your home has multiple levels, make sure that you at least have a bedroom, bathroom, study, laundry room and kitchen on the same level as the entrance. You can also choose to split your life on different floors by installing an elevator if your budget permits.
• Upgrade the kitchen: Install knobs that are easy to use and appliances with visual contrast. Adjustable countertops are a good investment and so are microwaves with buttons.