Is the Family Home Always the Best Choice?

grand daughter and elderly grandmother hugging and smiling

Instead of moving, seniors and their adult children sometimes decide to adapt the family home to comfortably, safely age in place. This might feel less daunting than the emotional and physical toll of selling and moving, but it isn’t necessarily less expensive. The costs of aging at home often include modifying the space and even hiring caregivers – this, in addition to ongoing homeownership expenses. Is the family home the right choice for seniors? Knowing the risks and planning carefully makes the difference between long-term satisfaction and stressful surprises.

Aging in Place: Creating a Safe Environment
Modifying the Family Home
Smart Homes for Seniors
Costs of Creating a Safe Senior Home
Providing Senior Care at Home
What to Know Before Hiring a Professional Caregiver
The Weary Family Caregiver
Making an Informed Senior Care Decision

Of all the choices available to seniors and their families, continuing to live in the family home can be irresistible to some. But making it work isn’t as easy as it might seem.

Aging in Place: Creating a Safe Environment

Savvy home renovation contractors know what they’re up against. When older adults have been living in the same house for decades, it can mean out-of-date kitchens, bathrooms and living spaces. Creating a safe, senior-friendly home involves modifying the house for accessibility, wiring it with smart home technologies, and updating appliances for safety and ease of use.

Modifying the Family Home

Consider what it takes to make a home safer.

  • Can you modify the floor plan to allow for easily accessible living on one floor? Hallways, bathroom, bedroom and kitchen all need to have adequate space to allow for safe movement throughout the house.
  • Can you retrofit the bathroom to safely accommodate the changing needs of an older adult? Bathrooms are the most dangerous rooms in the house for a senior. You’ll need grab bars, a no-step shower and extra space around the toilet to allow for a caregiver to provide assistance.
  • Can you upgrade the kitchen to make seated meal preparation and cooking possible? Range, refrigerator, pantry, pots and pans – everything must be accessible. Safety is paramount, because fires and falls make the kitchen second only to the bathroom for injuries.
  • Can you create 2 zero-step entrances to the home? Ramps and easy-access entryways make entering and exiting easier for those with mobility problems. And in an emergency, it’s critical to have more than 1 safe escape route.

Smart Homes for Seniors

Technology plays an increasingly important role in keeping homes safe and convenient. And the innovations continue to advance – from simple, inexpensive alarms that turn off unattended stoves … to comprehensive whole-home systems that track a senior’s every move. Today you can monitor a senior’s safety from across town or across the country.

Upfront costs are fairly reasonable, although most plans come with monthly monitoring fees. And if it takes a variety of tech products to keep an older adult safe in his or her home, the combined costs can take a bite out of the budget.

Costs of Creating a Safe Senior Home

It adds up fast. A few common modifications and their estimated costs include:

  • Monthly monitoring fees: $40 and up
  • Smart home technology installation: $99 to $1,500
  • Grab bars (2, installed): $250
  • Door widening: $800 to $1,200
  • Ramps and lifts: $2,500 to $20,000
  • Stair glide: $3,000 to $12,000
  • Bathroom renovations: $3,500 to $35,000
  • Ceiling lift: $5,000 to $12,000
  • Accessible master suite addition: $35,000 – $100,000

Providing Senior Care at Home

After modifying the space for accessibility and adding technology for safety, what’s next? It could be you’ll eventually need to consider personal care and support to assist with the tasks of daily living. Here’s what you need to know about hiring a professional caregiver – and what to expect when you rely on a family member for caregiving.

What to Know Before Hiring a Professional Caregiver

First, establish relationships with professional caregivers sooner rather than later. You need adequate time to develop confidence in their skills and compassion.

Your options for hiring a caregiver include:

  • Employing a caregiver you advertise for and hire directly
  • Partnering with a private-duty home care agency

Each option has advantages and disadvantages:

  • You’ll be responsible for screening when you recruit and hire on your own. And when a caregiver is ill, requests time off for vacation or has an emergency of their own, you’ll be responsible for adjusting the schedule. On the other hand, it typically costs less to hire a caregiver on your own. Even after you pay employment taxes, the expense will be a more budget-friendly option.
  • Partnering with a home care agency means relying on their expertise – which is often proven by how well they manage their cadre of professional caregivers. Agencies handle all issues related to employment, and can provide back-up caregivers if the regular caregiver is unavailable. But there’s a downside, which is the expense. Nationally, the median hourly rate for home care aides is $19. Most agencies require a minimum number of hours per visit or per month.

Finally, as-needed (episodic) care can benefit seniors who don’t require round–the-clock attention. If health needs increase, that limited care may become insufficient. But round-the-clock in-home care is expensive. Varying by region of the country, costs average $13,680 per month.

Here’s a helpful rule of thumb: When a senior needs 30 – 40 hours or less of combined support each week, home care can be a viable short-term solution. When the amount of care exceeds 30 – 40 hours per week, a senior living community increasingly becomes a safer, more cost-effective way to go.

The Weary Family Caregiver

Every year, 34 million family caregivers provide $44 billion in unpaid caregiving – according to the Family Caregiving Alliance.

In most instances, it’s the adult daughter who shoulders the responsibilities. She typically lives closest, and she juggles home, family and career with caregiving. This takes a toll. Family caregivers often lose wages, endure family stress, and see their health and well-being decline.

  • The family caregiver generally spends about 20 hours each week caring for her senior loved one. Many will cut back on work hours to provide care.
  • A MetLife report revealed that the typical woman who drops out of the workforce to care for a loved one will lose an average of $143,000 in wages. Many expect their caregiving responsibilities will be short-term, but the role ends up lasting much longer. In fact, over a lifetime, lost earnings can total $659,139. This includes $25,494 in Social Security benefits, $67,202 in pension benefits and $566,443 in lost wages.
  • Family caregivers report that the physical and emotional demands of caregiving cause a variety of health conditions. These range from missing their own medical appointments and health screenings to sleep disorders, back problems, depression and weight gain.

Making an Informed Senior Care Decision

Ask yourself these questions as you work your way through the decision process.

  • How long will these home modifications allow you or your senior loved one to remain safely in the home?
  • Is this a viable short-term answer, or do you expect this plan to work for years to come?
  • How financially feasible is the cost of paying for in-home care when compared with moving to a senior living community?
  • Can the family caregiver (and their spouse and children) handle the physical, financial and emotional toll this will cause?

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