We chose the title of this article very carefully. After all, there is a world of difference between two words: “house improvement” doesn’t have the same meaning as “home improvement.” A house is a style of domicile; it’s the mere shape of a thing. A home, though, is something else. It’s where you live. It’s where you create your memories and where you store them. It is the building in which a life is defined.
That’s why, for so many seniors, the thought of moving is so upsetting. A home is something to cling to, like a diary or a photo album. But unlike those things, a home can also contain within it lurking dangers for many aging. If the building isn’t modified for older adults, it can become a place with dangerous edges, challenging heights, and impossible stairs. The passage of time that makes a house a home can tragically turn a home into a blistering and looming obstacle course.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. There are ways that a home can be upgraded to make it safer and more comfortable for older adults. These are simple solutions that can help an older adult age in place. And while they come with a cost, many cities in the Bay Area offer tax or other financial incentives for aging adults who need help.
If your loved one wants to be able to age in place, in the house they call a home, here are some ways to make that possible.
Home Repairs for Aging in Place
There’s a reason many older adults in the Bay Area turn to home repairs rather than moving. While downsizing is always a great option, they may not want to leave their homes, and finding something affordable in the Bay is increasingly difficult. But getting a home ready to age in place doesn’t have to be.
- Bathroom grab bars: This is perhaps the easiest and most important improvement you can make. These allow seniors to use the bathroom by themselves, which is important for many people. It allows them to retain their independence. Grab bars are largely inexpensive, in the $60-80 range, and pretty simple to install. Many are no-drilling-required. You can also get $20 suction-based ones, which are reliable and (helpfully) portable. But I have noticed that many people are understandably leery of relying too much on them. They don’t have the appearance of solidity.
- Single-handed faucets: This is a small but meaningful change. Many faucets have hot and cold faucet handles that require two hands, or shifting, to adjust the temperature. That can be frustrating and difficult for people with weaker hands, chronic pain, or arthritis. A single-handed faucet in the bathrooms, showers, and kitchen can make a big difference. These can start as low as $20.
- Sturdy handrails: If you have stairs, these are a must. You can’t have rickety handrails or no handrails at all. Proper support is imperative. This is something that caretakers might have to reach out to someone else to do, a professional or someone with experience (if they don’t have the experience, that is). Handrails aren’t something to leave to chance. These can be anywhere from $25 to hundreds of dollars, depending on how fancy you or your loved one would like them to be.
- Ramps: Now these are beginning to get more complex. Ramps are vital for older adults who have wheelchairs but are also important to people who don’t want the wear and tear of stairs. Having a ramp can extend the usability of a home for years. A permanent wheelchair ramp can cost between $3,500 and $8,000, but a non-permanent one can be less than $200.
- Smart home technology: New devices allow for doors to be locked and unlocked (and opened) with the touch of a button, thermostats to program themselves, ovens to turn on and shut off, and lights to turn on and off based on presence in a room. There are also smart home healthcare devices that allow for older adults to be monitored, keeping them safer and not beholden to doctor’s visits.
All of these things cost money, of course, and even a series of small and simple repairs can add up. Luckily, in the Bay Area, cities can help you pay.
Financial Incentives for Home Improvements in the Bay Area
Many cities in the Bay Area encourage home improvements and retrofitting for older adults and make good on their encouragement with financial and tax incentives. These are especially important for older adults with limited means. Some of these include:
- Berkeley Senior and Disabled Home Rehabilitation Loan Program: Qualified homeowners can receive up to $80,000 in interest-free deferred loans.
- Oakland/Contra Costa Community Energy Services Corporation: Free energy-based home retrofits for eligible people 50 years or older.
- Federal loans: Federal loans can be worth up to $20,000 for low-income seniors over the age of 62.
- Grants: There are myriad grants that you can look into that can help retrofit or repair a home for an older adult.
Of course, these can all be very confusing to sort through, which is why there are services available to help you. At Institute on Aging, we help older adults and their families work through applications and other financial processes so that you can get the work you need done.
Because, when it comes down to it, retrofitting, repairing, or improving a home to age in place isn’t a gift. For many, it is what will make life better. It gives a sense of place and of rootedness. It helps to maintain a spirit of adventure and independence. A home may be a place of memories, but it isn’t rooted in the past. Making it accessible and safe for older adults helps point it toward the future and allows it to remain a place to create new memories.
At Institute on Aging, we help older adults age in place, in dignity and independence. Our programs and services work with seniors, families, and caregivers to overcome the obstacles to living at home. Connect with us today to learn more.