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Who Will Change My Light Bulbs?

December 2016
By Joseph F. Coughlin, PhD

Preparing yourself for the next stage of life often begins with determining where and how you’ll be spending it.

One of the main questions facing Americans today concerns housing needs as we get older. Specifically, it’s about the decision as to whether or not we’ll be able to stay in our current residence and community as the years go on. According to the AARP, nearly 90% of adults age 65 and older intend to stay in their own homes as long as possible.1 Often, the memories associated with our house and being comfortable in that familiar environment are the leading factors in wanting to stay put.

But here’s the reality: Even if you’re determined to age in place, work needs to be done.


A Home for a Lifetime

How will you continue living in your home safely and independently? When we’re younger, most of us take for granted our ability to do daily house cleaning, maintenance, and basic repairs—even home modifications. Forward-thinkers understand our homes as they appear today are most likely not ones that can sustain us into the future.

Incorporating universal design principles—a framework used to create a more functional living environment—into our modifications can greatly increase accessibility. These changes include widening hallways, creating single-floor living spaces, and adding safety modifications to accommodate medical equipment, walkers, and wheelchairs.


Work to Be Done

A 2015 study conducted by The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology found that 40% of baby boomers expect to remodel their homes in the near future.2 The bathroom and kitchen—often areas most in need of updates for aging in place—came out as the top two rooms many of us plan to tackle.

However, a majority of these projects were centered on aesthetics, with only 21% saying they were considering their age or health while planning the project.2

This is where we can be proactive and get our aging-in-place planning started. You can start by incorporating design modifications into already planned projects. These modifications (listed below) can range from minor to major, depending on your needs.


Top Trends for Aging in Place3

Here are the leading requests contractors hear when working with clients to upgrade their existing homes for longevity.

Throughout the house

  • Level the home’s entry way
  • Install proper lighting, both inside and out
  • Replace light switches with rocker switches and install lighted switch plates
  • Enlarge doorways to at least 32 inches wide (preferably 36) to accommodate a wheelchair

In the bedroom

  • Reduce the need to use the steps by shifting the bedroom to the main floor
  • Mount handles on beds to help with getting in and out
  • Install a closet storage system that makes things easy to reach

In the bathroom

  • Build a full bathroom on the main floor
  • Install a no-threshold shower
  • Add grab bars near the toilet and in the shower
  • Install lower toilet seats

In the kitchen

  • Free up space beneath a sink to provide open knee space for wheelchair use
  • Raise the height of a dishwasher to a comfortable height to make it easier to load and unload
  • Put easy-to-open pulls and handles on doors and cabinets


A Helping Hand

Understanding that modifications need to be made and working out the associated costs is one thing. Finding the right professionals to assist with those renovations is another. It’s often not easy to track down the most qualified contractors. You can begin by searching for qualified professionals through The National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) program. The NAHB developed CAPS to teach the technical, business management, and customer service skills essential in what’s becoming one of the fastest-growing segments of the residential remodeling industry. CAPS-certified professionals can be a trusted ally in your quest to age in place. To find one in your area, go online to for more information.


Locate Trusted Service Providers

Preparing to age in place is about more than just home modifications. As we get older, our ability to do work around the house ourselves also may lessen. Household repairs, services, and ongoing maintenance are often overlooked in our retirement planning. We might need a helping hand to complete these activities. Locating the right local businesses that specialize in the services can be a key strategy in helping accomplish some of these daily activities.

It’s important to factor the expense of these home assistance services into your financial plan.

  • House cleaning
  • Home maintenance & basic repairs
  • Lawn care & landscaping
  • Grocery shopping & delivery
  • Laundry
  • Home modifications
  • In-home medical services & devices
  • Heavy lifting
  • Organizing & decluttering


Envision Your Future Quality of Life

When you consider retirement planning, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. The first thing that comes to mind is probably, “How much money will I need?” But whatever that amount may be, your finances are only part of the equation for a meaningful retirement. We need to adopt an integrated and holistic approach to prepare ourselves to live longer and well in our homes. Identifying the necessary steps to maintain our home may be just as critical to aging independently as the health of our retirement savings. Your financial advisor can help integrate these issues into a comprehensive planning discussion to make planning to age in place more tangible for you and your family. Interested in learning more MIT AgeLab insights on aging? Visit today for additional info.

Joseph F. Coughlin, PhD
Director, MIT AgeLab




1AARP PPI, “What is Livable? Community Preferences of Older Adults,” 04/14, Most recent data available used.
2The Hartford, “Remodeling Today for a Better Tomorrow,” The Hartford, 07/15,
3Source: The National Association of Home Builders/