With 78 million baby boomers entering or on the verge of retirement, a concerted national effort is required to adapt homes and communities for the 73 percent of seniors who prefer to age in place, according to a new report released yesterday by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC).
The preference to grow older in one’s own home and community stems from a desire among many seniors to remain close to family and friends and maintain the social connections that have enriched their lives. They appreciate the familiarity of their own homes as well as that of the local shopping center, the community library, and their place of worship. They want to remain close to doctors, nurses, social workers, and the other professional service providers upon whom they have come to rely, according to research by AARP
That’s bad news for the nation’s real estate and housing finance industries, who have been anticipating a flood of transactions from Boomers selling their long-time residences. But its good news for remodelers eager to retrofit family homes to make them senior-safe.
Source: Adapted from Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population. JCHS tabulations of US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2011
Many homes and communities are ill-equipped to accommodate this desire. Many of today’s homes were designed at an earlier time, before the demographic changes now transforming the country were even recognized. Most lack the necessary structural features that can make independent living into old age a viable, and communities so they are “senior friendly”. the BPC said.
”A concerted national effort is required to (1) adapt homes and communities so they are “senior friendly”; (2) ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing suitable for seniors; and (3) connect necessary services to the places where seniors live,” the report stated.
For example, five “universal design” features can help make homes safer for seniors: no-step entries; single-floor living, eliminating the need to use stairs; switches and outlets accessible at any height; extra-wide hallways and doors to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs; and lever-style door and faucet handles.34 However, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, only 57 percent of existing homes have more than one of these features.
The incomes and personal savings of seniors will continue to be a critical source of funds to support aging in place, but for many, these resources will be inadequate. Older seniors are carrying larger mortgage balances into their retirement years, potentially impacting their ability to finance retirement and aging-in-place needs.
Public support will necessary to meet these goals as home and community-based services grow in demand and more chronically ill beneficiaries’ age into Medicare and Medicaid programs. However, • the longer-term savings and other benefits associated with aging in place will at least partially offset the shorter-term financial costs that are incurred to facilitate it.
“By more tightly linking health care and housing policy, the U.S. has the potential to improve the health outcomes for seniors, reduce the costs incurred by the health care system, enable millions of seniors to ‘age in place’ in their own homes, and improve their quality of life,” said Vin Weber, former U.S. Representative and co-chair of BPC’s Health and Housing Task Force. “Making these connections is critical as federal government spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and other health programs is projected to grow much faster than the overall economy over the next 25 years.”