The meaning of “home” likely changes throughout our lives for most of us. This article seeks to explore how older adults choose to define “home” in the later stage of life, perhaps, when a couple has become empty nesters, or when considering making a last move to the “right home.” Regardless of the reason, we probably all have some very personal responses to this question. Personally, my home is my haven. It is my source and avenue for self expression. It is also a place where I can engage in things I love to do such as gardening and DIY projects. I suspect many of these will continue to be things I enjoy doing and will continue to add meaning and purpose to my life well into my later years. So I ask myself the question, Don’t most people feel this way about their homes as well? What about the community our homes are a part of? How important is community? Well….I think the answers are complex and varied.
AARP surveys consistently find that older adults want to stay in their current homes and communities for as long as possible. However, barely 1% of the nation’s housing supply contains any “universal or accessible” design elements such as a single story or a sink that can be accessed from a wheelchair. “Meeting The Future Housing Needs of Seniors” (PD&R Edge, November 2017)
Actually, most housing in the United States was built more than a generation ago for the family unit consisting of 2 parents and at least 2 children. Today, the dominant household (about 30%) consists of a single adult, followed by a household of 3 or more people of different generations (about 20%). “Housing for a Changing America” (AARP.org/making Room 2019). Thus, our housing stock is vastly unprepared to meet the needs of our aging population.
I believe it is time for housing professionals such as builders, city planners, interior designers, and architects to seriously consider alternative housing solutions that will help alleviate a looming housing crisis for our seniors in the future and that will accommodate multi-generational living arrangements. Some of these include Accessory Dwelling Units or ADU’s, Tiny Homes, and Micro Units.
In addition, we can also hire professionals such as Occupational Therapists with additional training and certifications in home modifications (Certified Aging-In-Place-Specialist or CAPS) Working With an OT or Certified Aging in Place Specialist – AARP which have a unique skill set. Occupational therapists are specifically trained to match the person with their environment, and the functional task so they can be as independent as possible. OT’s can recommend home modifications, adaptive equipment, and work with an interdisciplinary team such as a general contractor, interior designer, and an equipment specialist if needed, to help create the best possible space for the homeowners’ current and future needs, lifestyle, and abilities. This may be the most cost friendly and readily available option for most Americans that already own a home and wish to remain in their home and community.
In conclusion, most people don’t want to or it is prohibitively expensive for them to retire to 55+ community or a resort style independent living facility. I know that isn’t what I want for myself and I have been working in healthcare and visiting many of these places for over a decade as an occupational therapist working in the home health industry since 2010 and through the Covid-19 Pandemic. I, in turn, want to educate seniors and caregivers on the myriad of housing options that are available, not the least of which is modifying your own home with the purpose of staying in it as long as possible and creating a home for life.