Home Renovation Options for Aging Parents

There are 76.4 million baby boomers living in America, according to statistics quoted by the Population Reference Bureau –  which equates to one-quarter of the country’s population as of 2012. That generation is approaching retirement age, and many adult children of baby boomers are starting to explore different housing options in order to make sure their parents’ living situations remain comfortable as they age.

Nursing homes and retirement communities can be expensive, costing anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000 per year, and insurance providers do not always offer coverage for this type of care. It’s also hard to deny that these communities come with a certain social stigma, and there have also been studies that indicate raised levels of depression and isolation in seniors living in these communities. It’s not uncommon these days for retired baby boomers to move in with their adult children. A 2010 report from the Pew Research Center, as quoted by Forbes.com, showed that 20 percent of people over the age of 65 live in multigenerational households. In the same article, a spokesperson for PulteGroup homebuilders said a company survey revealed that 32 percent of adults with aging parents expect that their parents will move in with them some day. Despite these statistics, most aging parents wish to preserve their independence for as long as possible. There are several options to explore that allow seniors to keep their autonomy, while still allowing adult children to be close by in case of emergency.

The “baby boomer” face more disability

The “baby boomer” generation may face more disability, with higher rates of certain diseases than previous generations. Source: Jama Internal Medicine

Buying a fixer-upper in the same neighborhood

Although there is a lot to consider when purchasing a fixer-upper, it could turn out to be a major win-win situation. Fixer-uppers have the potential to provide purchasers with serious ROI when and if they decide to sell. Some may think that moving elderly parents into their current home is the best decision, financially speaking, but most homes present obstacles for aging occupants and would need renovating anyway. The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University estimates that 44 percent of homes have some need for remodeling to add basic accessibility features. Starting with a clean slate provides the opportunity to design a space that addresses particular needs. Since the house that aging parents will be moving into will be in the same neighborhood as their children, they won’t be completely cut off from their community even after the move. Adult children should not worry about accessibility features impacting resale value either. Thanks to the Age in Place movement, many seniors are in the market for homes that come equipped with the things that will help them remain independent as they get older.

Contemplating the in-law suite   

If you have the space on your property, adding an in-law suite can provide peace of mind and allow aging parents to be closeby while still in their own space. In-law suites, or additional dwelling units (ADUs), come with huge financial rewards as well. Wall Street Journal quoted a study from Zillow that showed new home listings of properties with in-law apartments enjoyed prices 60 percent higher than those without them.  

Popular options include converting attic or basement spaces into apartments. For parents with mobility issues, these options might not be ideal. In those cases, the homeowners could add an electric stair lift to help elderly parents up and down the stairs. With a basement apartment, homeowners could install a ramp entrance rather than stairs. Alternatively, the apartment could be occupied by an older child, opening up a bedroom in the main house, preferably on the first floor.

Small, separate structures are also an option. Some properties feature detached garages or pool houses that can easily be converted to an ADU. There are companies that sell prefab buildings designed for these purposes. A tiny house with its own foundation makes a great possibility for an ADU. Companies like Tumbleweed Tiny House Company sell pre-made or partially constructed customizable homes. However, most of these come on a trailer and include lofted bedrooms, which might make them less than ideal for mobility-challenged individuals. Alternatively, you could purchase Tumbleweed’s plans and build something yourself, including the necessary alterations. Accessorydwellings.org is a nonprofit that provides information on this subject, including links to information on regulations by state and city.   

Thinking about necessary remodel features

Both of these options still require remodeling to ensure the space is accessible for and customized to the needs of an aging parent. Basic changes include:

  • Outdoor access ramps or eliminating steps from entryways
  • Wider doorways for wheelchair accessibility (32-inch minimum)
  • Grab bars for support in bathrooms and potentially other areas, like the bedroom
  • Spacious bathrooms, large enough to accommodate a wheelchair
  • In-shower seats and handrails
  • Lower kitchen countertops
  • Wider overall clearance in the kitchen for ease of mobility
  • Easy-to-access storage (walk-in closets with low shelving)
  • Sinks with knee clearance
  • Adjusting the height of appliances (lowering wall-mounted microwaves, raising dishwashers, etc.)
cost of disability

The cost of disability focused home improvements varies by the type of project.

To make life easier, adult children should ensure contractors are knowledgeable about increased accessibility needs. There are also helpful resources where homeowners can find pre-made plans.   

Other upgrades that make homes safer and more livable for elderly residents include:

  • Non-slip flooring materials, or rubber floors
  • Walk-in baths with impact-resistant closures
  • Programmable faucets and showerheads that control temperature to prevent scalding
  • Electric stairlifts
  • Safety lighting in case of movement in the night
disability home renovations

Shower benches provide assistance to disabled users. Image: Pinterest

Deciding what to do about housing as parents age can be hard, for the parents themselves and their adult children. It can lead to many emotional discussions about health and end-of-life care decisions. Moving elderly parents in with their families requires planning and consideration, financial and emotional. By thinking ahead and exploring renovation options, a comfortable, living situation can be created for everyone involved.

Home Renovation Options for Aging Parents was last modified: January 2nd, 2017 by Sheree Whiteley
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