As part of maintaining their independence, elderly people often prefer to live in their homes as long as possible. Staying at home also can be cheaper than moving into an assisted living facility or a skilled nursing facility. However, many interior and exterior features of homes were not designed with age-related limitations in mind. A modification may be simple and relatively inexpensive, while making a home safer and more accessible for an elderly person. If an elderly loved one wants to remain in their home, but you are concerned about whether this is feasible, you can evaluate the home to determine whether modifications might help.
You should go through each room of the home, perhaps with assistance from online checklists or advice from a home improvement specialist, such as an occupational therapist. The three main issues to bear in mind are safety, accessibility, and adaptability. The last of these issues involves features that are usable by the elderly person but could be used more efficiently and effectively with an adjustment. If your loved one suffers from a distinctive physical or mental condition, you might want to consult a specialist who is familiar with that condition. You also can consider retaining a certified aging-in-place specialist, whom you can find through the AARP website. These professionals have received training for identifying problems in this area and crafting strategies to deal with them. They even may be able to complete a modification.
Common Home Modifications
Moving light switches
Installing grab bars
Installing wheelchair ramps
Installing additional lighting
Removing slipping or tripping hazards
Many organizations focused on the elderly, such as AARP, provide extensive home safety and modification checklists on their websites.
Paying for Home Modifications
Sometimes a home modification consists of a slight adjustment that the elderly person’s loved ones or friends can handle on their own. Or it may consist of removing rather than adding a feature of the home, which may involve no cost. If you need to pay for a more sophisticated modification, you may need to get a loan or try to negotiate a reduced fee with the contractor, based on the elderly person’s resources. You might be able to get Medicare or Medicaid to cover the cost of a modification if the elderly person’s doctor requested it. A few other types of organizations may be able to help, such as Rebuilding Together, which sometimes will perform home modifications. You also may be able to get funds through the Area Agency on Aging near you, which is supported by Title III and Title V of the Older Americans Act. In some cases, the city where the elderly person lives will have allocated funding to housing rehabilitation in their neighborhood, which may be used for home modifications.
Working with a Contractor
If you cannot complete a modification on your own, you will want to carefully evaluate various contractors to minimize the risk of fraud. Home improvement contractors can behave unscrupulously when they work for elderly people. They may use lower-quality materials, fail to do work for which they were paid in advance, or run up costs without justification. You should ask for referrals from people whom you know and find out whether a contractor is properly licensed for the type of modification that they will be completing. You can look up a contractor in the records of the Better Business Bureau, the state licensing board, and various consumer protection agencies to make sure that they have a strong reputation.
Before you sign up for the services of a specific contractor, you may want to review proposals from several different contractors. You can ask them to not only estimate the cost but also explain in writing which materials they would use and how they would organize the project. While you will need to take a bid that you can afford, you might not want to take the cheapest bid if the contractor has a shaky reputation or a record of using poor materials.
Avoid making the last payment to the contractor until the work is complete.
The final step involves signing a written agreement with your contractor of choice. It should specify the cost of the project, the duration of the project, the materials that they will use, and the precise nature of the tasks that they will perform. You can expect to make a down payment at the start of the project, which will cover the cost of materials. However, you should not need to pay the contractor anything further until they complete the work, or until they complete a major phase of it if the project is substantial. The contract will provide the payment schedule.