A new AARP survey found that older Americans continue to have a strong preference to staying in their homes as they age, even if they have found themselves stuck at home for long stretches of time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over three-quarters of those age 50 and over (77 percent) prefer to remain in their home as they age, according to the survey results. That statistic has remained steady for over a decade, according to AARP.
However, there is another way in which older people get stuck in a living situation that doesn’t meet their needs as they age. A third of survey participants said they’d need to modify their homes in order to accommodate a physical limitation. These modifications can be pricey and not feasible for those on fixed incomes. The same financial challenges apply to moving into a more aging-friendly home or moving into a senior living facility.
When my father landed in the hospital for emergency surgery, he had a difficult recovery due to his mid-stage dementia and could no longer walk. The condo that my parents had was not safe for him to return to, so the hospital would not release him home. One had to access a staircase to get to the entrance and the rear entrance was wooded land that was not safe for unsteady gaits. Any modifications would have to be approved by the HOA, a lengthy process. Instead my father got transferred to a skilled nursing facility and then, a memory care facility an hour and a half away from home.
Another solution to these housing challenges was met with support from survey participants. Sixty percent of those polled said they would consider living in an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), sometimes referred to as a “granny pad” or a tiny house. These affordable, small-footprint homes can be built adjacent to a primary home (depending upon local permitting) and allow independence and privacy while also benefitting from having loved ones nearby for help with daily chores and activities and for companionship.
According to the AARP survey, “access to clean water, healthy foods, quality health care and safe outdoor spaces” were important considerations when it came to what communities offer those aging in place. High-speed internet service was also deemed important. Developers and city planners should take note as they build communities and offer flexible, adjustable housing options that can meet the needs of an aging population.