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Aging in Place: Home Adaptation Is #1 Way to Prepare

A recent article in Harvard Medical Schools’ Healthbeat offered readers six different ways in which they could prepare to “age well.” I’ll share with you their six recommendations, and then look more closely at their #1 recommendation.

6. Prepare advanced health care directives; e.g., living will, health care proxy.

5. Plan ahead for emergencies; have a home alarm system, keep emergency numbers close by.

4. Identify sources of assistance for needs you may have; e.g., transportation, meal preparation, etc.

3. Determine best housing options; e.g., non-traditional retirement community.

2. Avoid falls; e.g., practice balance exercises, use safety precautions, etc.

And the #1 recommendation: Make needed adaptations to your home. Potential barriers to aging in place can include steep stairs, hazardous bathrooms, and other environmental problems.

The authors recommend that individuals do a safety review annually, so that modifications can be made as needs change.

One individual who was surely happy to read the Healthbeat article was Louis Tenenbaum, a grassroots aging in place advocate. The founder of and the Aging in Place Institute, Tenenbaum was recently quoted as saying, “Although a large majority of older Americans say they want to age in place, it is often more easily said than done.” He places a great emphasis upon home modifications and offers consultation to families, builders, and communities.

Tenenbaum is a strong advocate for government assistance to individuals wanting to make needed modifications to their homes, stating, “We have the responsibility to prepare our homes, finances and health… Governments at all levels must use incentives and regulations to help businesses facilitate individuals to do the right things.” He cites examples: “Accessibility can be required for new buildings. Tax breaks can encourage accessible renovations or new building.”

Tenenbaum says that proper tax credits would increase consumer awareness of the particular types of products needed in homes to facilitate aging in place. In Virginia, for example, such tax credits increased homeowner participation in home modification initiatives four-fold in five years.

Using the solar energy industry an example, Tenenbaum notes that trade group advocacy can lead to state or federal implementation. One of the goals of Homes Renewed is to similarly advocate on behalf of both customers and suppliers who wish to implement aging-in-place modifications in home environments.

As medical professionals and others increase public awareness about the relationship between “aging in place” and “aging well,” needed change will come at both policy and consumer levels.

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