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In our increasingly aging population almost everyone can name a senior, whether a loved one, neighbor or family friend, that lives at home and plans to stay there.
In fact, nearly 90% of seniors want to stay in their own homes as they age, according to research by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Doing so, however, requires planning, a support system, and often, home modifications surrounding safety, access and function. And most are willing to make the financial commitments to do so and are fueling the home modification market in the process.
Home modifications from the more common, such as installation of grab bars, raised toilet seats, railings and modified door knobs to larger renovation projects and edgy new high tech additions are a booming business and predicted to continue to grow.
One of the most often overlooked home modification needs is for lighting updates throughout the home, which has been identified as being essential for overall safety and slips, trips and falls accident prevention. By the time we are 60 years old, we require at least 15% more lighting in the home, so making sure there is easy-to-access lighting with proper illumination is key. Stairways, the kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, and home entrances and walkways are areas to pay special attention to. Motion-controlled lighting, low-level lighting in corridors and stairwells, under-bed glowing lights and sensor lighting that comes on when darkness falls are also helpful additions to more traditional lighting upgrades and improvements.
Other more costly renovations that are increasingly requested include widened halls and doorways for greater access or wheel chair accessibility, elevator installations and stair lifts, ramps, non-slip flooring, walk-in tubs and roll-in showers. Separate handicapped accessible apartments, home additions and free-standing backyard “granny pods” are also growing in popularity as more and more of our boomers are aging in huge numbers.
There are a lot of cool, more high tech options available today including a vast array of appliances and monitoring systems that add safety and function without compromising style.
Consider these awesome options: dishwashers with higher drawers that do not require bending; a device that will turn off the stove if left on and there is no one in the room; a device that will turn off incoming water to prevent water overflows; a microwave with larger easy-to-read fonts; a device that can be helpful for the hearing impaired to know someone is at the door; induction heating products that offers the safety of a cool cooking element. There are also a number of high tech monitoring and alert systems that can be added to the home to provide peace of mind for families and help monitor for falls, safety or changing health conditions.
When marketing or working with customers looking to make any of these changes or upgrades, be sure to give consideration to understanding exactly who the decision maker is in the process… are you reaching the senior homeowner directly or are you connecting with adult children and family?
Who is making the decisions? For the most part, home modification decisions and purchases are being made directly by senior homeowners, but it can also often be the adult children or family who are actually facilitating the process. Understand that when dealing with family, the request for home modifications might be made during a stressful time when there has been a medical emergency or an unexpected change in health/functional status for the senior. Manufacturers and contractors must be sensitive to the many stressors happening at the time and be able to provide services in an efficient, helpful and expedient way. As is often the case with family-spearheaded projects and renovations, they have become essential to facilitate the return home from a hospital or rehab for a loved one and must be completed quickly.
When working directly with senior homeowners, the messaging should be around maintaining independence and control, not aging or declining abilities.
Look for ways to integrate needed changes in the most aesthetic way and not losing sight of style and comfort. Building and planning for homes and living spaces with an eye to a future that will be accommodating as we age is important to keep in the forefront of the process. Younger, savvier adults are also thinking more about their needs down the road and appreciate function, adaptability and “livable community” concepts and amenities that make it easier to plan ahead.
Covering the costs…
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reports that 80% of aging-related modifications are paid for out of pocket, however, there are many options for covering or defraying the cost that businesses should be aware of. If a modification is considered to be “medically necessary” the cost can sometimes be covered or at least defrayed by Medicare or Medicaid, but it’s not a common path. Long-term care policies that have been initiated and approved might also provide a helpful payment source for home modifications and well worth encouraging seniors and their families to look into. Approximately one-third of states have financial assistance programs, sometimes called nursing home diversion programs, but they can be limited in terms of what they cover and might come with eligibility requirements. There are also a vast array of unexpected sources that might help with home accessibility project costs from local foundations and funds to some of the larger national societies and associations such as the National MS Society or The ALS Association. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and many other state or local resources are also helpful to look to for support.
Overall, many seniors and their families agree that remaining at home and incurring the cost of home modification and safety upgrades are much preferred to an institutional setting or move to an alternate living setting. According the United States Census Bureau, it’s projected that by the year 2040 the U.S. population age 65 and older will double to 80 million, representing more than 20% of all U. S. residents compared with only 9.8% in 1970… this certainly speaks to a tremendous opportunity.