HouseWorks: Aging at Home Updates Require an Early Start


As necessary as nursing homes are, I have never met anyone eager to leave their comfortable home to move into one as they age. It’s natural to prefer your own place, but it’s also easy to overlook the most common and avoidable reason nursing home residence becomes necessary, even when it’s not wanted. Weather.

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If you are a senior or about to become a senior, you should know that today’s aging-in-place hardware, fixtures, and technologies can greatly reduce the need for a nursing home residence. There really are a lot of remarkable things out there. And depending on how far you want to carry out home improvements to stay in your home, there’s a good chance you could avoid the need for a nursing home altogether.

The reason so many people can’t age in their own homes is because they waited too long to make necessary home improvements. It’s never too early to start, but it’s often too late in my experience. A true story tells a typical tale.

I know a couple who moved out of their two-story family home when they were in good health and in their 70s. They moved to a smaller location with a ground floor layout in a senior community where all landscaping and snow removal work was provided. This was his aging-in-place plan, but to no avail. In fact, they were probably worse off because they were now further away from family. Neither of them spent a single day living at home longer in their “retirement” house than in the previous place. Why? Because it takes time that these people didn’t give themselves, time to renew themselves in a way that takes into account the three main problems of aging: reduced strength, reduced mobility, and reduced mental acuity.

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When I help homeowners make home improvements to age well at home, there are three levels to the transformation. Tier 1 is the easy stuff that makes a lot of quick profits, usually completed in 30 days or less. This would include installing handrails, traction aids, fall alert systems, Wi-Fi cameras (so loved ones can keep an eye on things remotely), and an access ramp, among others. Visit to see an article I put together that outlines some of the fastest and easiest Tier 1 home improvements to create.

Level 2 includes room-by-room modifications designed to help when outside assistance is required for part of the day. These upgrades include things like a barrier-free tub or shower, a raised toilet, lower-than-usual kitchen countertops, and perhaps even a lift system.

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Level 3 is for people who want full-time in-house help and includes a second suite for a caretaker, upgraded vehicle loading and unloading, and an accessible outdoor recreation area.

Simple things like this handhold can extend the time seniors spend living in their own home.  New options for aging in place make it more convenient than ever.
Simple things like this handhold can extend the time seniors spend living in their own home. New options for aging in place make it more convenient than ever. Photo by Canstock Photography

But doesn’t all this cost a fortune? Something like. The further you go with the three upgrade levels, the more expensive things get. That said, “expensive” is a relative term here. Compared to nursing home rates, upgraded seniors are starting to look more reasonable. Things get even more interesting when you realize that the cost of improved senior living home improvements don’t completely disappear after they’re paid for, like nursing home fees do. When you no longer need your senior home, your family can sell it for a premium and recoup a good portion of the improvement costs. There are plenty of up-and-coming seniors who would love to have a home that they can live in for the rest of their lives.

Nursing homes are necessary. I’m glad they exist. But if your dream is to stay in your home as long as possible, time is the most important thing to consider. As I said before, you can’t start too early, but you can certainly start too late.

Steve Maxwell has been helping Canadians make the most of their homes since 1988. Visit Steve online at for articles, videos, online courses and the chance to ask Steve questions.

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