Hazardous Homes Threaten Boomers’ Aging-in-Place Plans

Baby Boomers consistently say they would prefer to age in place than move to a senior community or nursing home, yet there may be an important consideration that they are overlooking: How age-friendly their homes actually are.

“I live in a one-story house in Florida that you would think would be great, but it’s completely not an accessible home,” says Laurie Orlov, founder of market research firm Aging in Place Technology Watch.

Among the features that make Orlov’s home treacherous for an older adult: narrow doorways, a four-inch step-down in the shower, and a two-inch threshold lip on the lanai.

While she does not require modifications at the moment, she is considering that she might have to modify or move as she ages. And she has the same reaction that many others might have when faced with relocating or renovating: “I would think, ‘bummer,’” she tells HHCN.

Recognizing the disconnect between seniors’ aging-in-place desires and the design of their homes, Orlov believes in the value of a certification for dwellings that would meet the needs of seniors.

In fact, Orlov raised this issue when she appeared at a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging last month, testifying on the topic of how technology can help facilitate aging in place.

The National Association of Home Builders has pursued this type of initiative in the past, and Orlov believes that with residential construction picking up and the Baby Boomers set to hit their senior years, the time is ripe to bring the idea to fruition.

Orlov is far from alone in recognizing that a wave of renovations may be hitting, as seniors adapt their homes for aging. A recent Wall Street Journal article dubbed this the “Baby Boom building boom,” and highlighted renovation projects.

The projects highlighted by the WSJ mainly consisted of lessening hazards, such as by eliminating stairs, and installing safety features such as grab bars. But some of these renovations also involved more technology-driven elements, such as systems to control lighting.

These technologies could make an especially significant impact on what aging-friendly housing looks like in the coming years, whether it’s single-family residences or units in senior housing communities.

“The technology’s there,” Orlov says. “We are entering an era now when you can do so much more to make a home appealing to stay in.”

Written by Tim Mullaney