According to an AARP survey, more and more Americans are facing the prospect of living longer in houses not designed to meet their needs. Nearly one-fourth of Americans age 45 and older predict that they or someone they live with will have difficulty getting around in their home within five years.
Older people generally have a greater desire to remain in their current homes than younger people. Among those 45 to 54 years old, 75 percent want to live in their present home as long as possible. Among those 75 and older, 95 percent want to do so.
Unfortunately, fewer than 10 percent of the roughly 100 million housing units in America have significant features for universally accessible usage such as wide doorways, entrances without steps, stairwell handrails, grab bars in bathtubs, and light switches at the top and bottom of stairs.
Today, a wide range of products are available from medical supply stores and other vendors to help seniors stay at home. Equipment vendors say navigating stairs and bathrooms are by far the top two problems the elderly face at home. Costs vary considerably, and comparisons are in order. A first-floor bathroom, for instance, may cost $15,000, while a stair lift would cost roughly $3,000.
Commonly recommended products include bathroom-wall grab bars; portable wheelchair ramps for navigating a single step; bath lifts to ease someone in and out of water; and the electric or battery-powered stair lifts.
There are handrails and bed rails, bath seats and raised commode seats, roll-in showers and hand-held showers, porch lifts and electric, lift-up, living-room recliners, not to mention the wide varieties of walkers and wheelchairs for everyday help.
Those products and more are part of the durable medical equipment industry, where both basic and technologically sophisticated items for the home have become a bigger business as society has shifted its focus from institutional care to finding ways people can stay in their homes.
Although the technology is, like every other industry, becoming more and more impressive, the typical person over age 65 is not going to have an array of high-tech equipment. More often than not, the average older adult may not have even basic equipment to assist them at home, unless their children or other relatives do the research and talk them into it -- and sometimes help pay for it. People raised in the Depression era commonly are reluctant to spend money on themselves simply to make their lives more convenient. They tend more to save their money and struggle through.
For those on a budget, here are the five simplest modifications older people can make to help ease their lives:
As baby boomers and their parents' age, these concerns will continue to loom larger in our society, and the need for assistive devices for seniors will to grow as well.