Want to live in your home for the rest of your years? Here’s what it takes

More Americans want to age in place — also known as living at home the rest of their lives — but that arrangement takes a lot of planning, money and attention to detail.

Lowe’s
LOW,
+1.53%,
the home-improvement retail chain, was the latest company to bring attention to this growing desire to age in place. The company announced a campaign called “Lowe’s Livable Home,” in collaboration with AARP, that emphasizes age-friendly home improvement renovations, such as curb-free showers, pull-out cabinet organizers and wheelchair ramps The launch also includes promotions of smart home devices, like a digital lock and video doorbell. 

“Nearly every family in America at some point, including my own, faces the important and often intimidating responsibility of preparing a home for life’s changes,” Marvin Ellison, chairman and chief executive officer of Lowe’s, said in a statement. This is the first in a series of steps the company intends to take to educate consumers and promote aging in place — Lowe’s said it would regularly update its virtual library with articles and videos about age-friendly home designs and improvements. 

See: What will you call home when you’re older? The ultimate guide to housing in later life

Changes such as replacing tubs and installing security cameras may assist in the goal of aging in place, but making a home age-friendly can be expensive. A walk-in tub could come with a $5,000 price-tag, and remodeling entire bathrooms and kitchens can be in the tens of thousands. A stair lift costs $8,000 on average, according to Retirement Living magazine. Not all homes are equipped to handle these changes, which may make the total bill even higher. 

On top of these renovations, people who live out their days at home will still need medical care and attention, which also adds up. The national average for home health aides in 2019 was $22 an hour, according to Payingforseniorcare.com. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities aren’t any cheaper — the national average cost for an assisted living facility was $4,000 a month, though it could be more than $9,000 depending on the state and facility, and nursing homes had an average of $245 per day for a shared room, or more than $7,000 a month (private rooms are even more expensive).

To age in place requires significant financial planning, so that home repairs and improvements do not become a barrier for entry. When making these decisions, people need to shift their focus from “aging in place” to “aging in the right place,” experts said. Of course, this does include the sentimental value and familiarity to the neighborhood (or in some cases, proximity to family, friends and doctors). 

Still, plenty of Americans want to age in place. Almost nine in 10 people wanted to remain at home as they aged, although only a quarter said they thought their homes would be ready for that, according to a survey from Silvernest, a website dedicated to helping older Americans find roommates and alternative senior housing. “Overwhelmingly, the goal seems to be to age in place as long as possible,” said Riley Gibson, president of Silvernest. 

This isn’t always the right decision, Gibson said. There are alternatives to staying at home, which may be less costly and could promote some of the nonmedical needs of an older person, he added. These alternatives include home-sharing and urban rental apartments with all health-appropriate amenities. “Every year, someone needs to consider ‘is this the right place for me?’,” he said. “I think we have to open our minds to alternatives, versus the sole focus of aging in place.”  

Also see: What these ‘age-forward’ cities are doing for older residents

The pandemic has heated up the debate between in-home living and institutional care even more, Patrick Roden, a nurse and chief executive officer of AgingInPlace.com, a website with resources for older Americans and their caregivers. 

But there are plenty of issues that still need to be addressed with aging in place, including elderly people living in the suburbs where they’re removed from social and cultural basic needs, rural Americans having limited access to delivery services and the financial burdens associated with making these improvements. (The flip side doesn’t always seem attractive either though — nursing homes were the setting for many stressful, chaotic moments during the pandemic, when relatives were locked out of seeing their elderly loved ones in these facilities or the coronavirus quickly spread among patients and staff.) 

Structural elements to aging in place are important, such as having the right fixtures in the home to move around the house, but so are societal elements, so that people aren’t living isolated and lonely lives, Gibson said. “Societally, I think we need to keep opening up what is expected and possible for older adults that are aging,” he said. 

There also aren’t as many age-friendly homes as there should be, Roden wrote. “As a society, we need to be producing more housing that is of a smaller scale, affordably priced, suitable for multiple-family use, located in walkable communities and close to amenities, commercial districts, health facilities and public transit,” he wrote on his site. “And we need to compress morbidity so we are not just prolonging life, but also functional health.”