Independent for Life - Or Just for a Season?
Aging Americans need different types of homes
Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and editor of the book Independent for Life: Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging America points out that Americans are aging in traditional homes, neighborhoods and communities that were designed for yesterday’s demographic realities, not those of today or the future.
Community level housing
Secretary Cisneros sees a pressing need for affordable packages of home modifications and maintenance to make residences more suitable for older people. “A certified renovation package for aging in place could include roll-under kitchen and bathroom sinks, grab bars, curbless showers, lever faucets and door handles, a zero-step entrance, and wider doors and hallways”, he wrote.
Needed changes at the community level include affordable small-scale housing and cluster or senior co-housing situated in walkable communities with nearby amenities, businesses, health facilities and public transportation.
For elders who want to be near family members yet maintain their independence, so-called accessory dwelling units (mother-in-law units) with their own kitchens and bathrooms are being built near or attached to family homes where local codes permit.
Moving out, or moving help in
On the other hand, Paula Spencer Scott, senior editor at Caring.com, recently compiled a guide to help families determine when the time has come to move older relatives from their homes and into a more supportive environment or, alternatively, when to bring in a home health aide who can provide assistance. These signs to look for and questions to ask are adapted from Ms. Scott’s recommendations:
- Recent accidents or close calls, like a fall, medical scare or minor car accident
- A loss of active friendships
- Mail in a chaotic state, scattered about and unopened. Are there unpaid overdue bills, surprising thank-you notes from charities, piles of unread magazines
- In the kitchen, look for potholders with burned edges, or a discharged fire extinguisher
- Spills that were not cleaned up, or an overflowing laundry basket
Those are all indications that an older adult is losing or has already lost his or her independence, an outcome that is likely reached sooner in an environment that is no longer friendly to the changing needs of an elderly occupant.
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