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Getting older can be costly. Having plans to age in place can help reduce the burden

Many Canadians want to stay home for as long as possible as they get older. A 2020 report from Sotheby’s International Realty Canada and Mustel Group, a research firm, revealed that 86 per cent of baby boomers and older adults would choose to age in place if they could, rather than move to a new home, bunk with others or wait for space in an overcrowded long-term care system.

As Canadians age, however, frailty threatens their ability to age in place. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 81 per cent of hospitalizations involving seniors in 2017 and 2018 were because of a fall. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that 20 to 30 per cent of seniors experience a fall every year and that more than one-third of seniors who are hospitalized for a fall are unable to return home.

Spots in seniors’ residences can be expensive. The 2020 Seniors Housing Survey from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reported that in Ontario, the average monthly rent for a standard space was $3,865, and that’s for residents who don’t need high-level care.

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Thinking about an age-in-place plan before a fall or other injury happens could be the difference between growing old in your own home and having to come up with a new plan — and the financial resources to carry it out.

In partnership with BlueZoneHome, a Toronto-based construction firm focused on adapting homes to seniors’ needs, we look at how planning to age in place can make a big difference when it comes to keeping seniors safe and happy at home.

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Planning to age in place is a long-term investment

According to occupational therapist and Inclusive Aging founder Margot McWhirter, seniors should consider investing some of that money in their own homes. McWhirter works with BlueZoneHome to assess clients’ needs, allowing seniors to enjoy their homes for longer without having to depend on others for care and support.

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“It’s really never too early,” she says. “The worst time to make a decision and try to plan is in the middle of a crisis. If you can plan ahead in your 50s, 60s, even into your early 70s, that’s okay. But people in their 80s and 90s, the tendency I’ve seen is that they’re less likely to make significant changes, so it’s going to be more of a band-aid, or a temporary home modification.”

McWhirter explains that making such modifications before a fall or other accident can mean the difference between an older adult staying healthy, safe and independent, and becoming prematurely unhealthy or at-risk for falls and other injuries.

“For most people, our homes are our biggest asset, and people want to realize the financial return on that investment for the long term,” she adds. “But that shouldn’t come at the expense of investing in the space where you are planning to live and to stay. Recognize that by planning to invest in modifying your home to allow you to stay, you are increasing your independence.”

READ MORE: As baby boomers age, cost of elder care could soon double in Canada: study

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Going beyond grab bars for a safe, comfortable living space

Transforming your home into a safe space to age in place doesn’t necessarily mean doing a complete renovation.

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A professional helps tailor your home to your own specific needs and tastes, while considering things you maybe haven’t thought of, such as reaches into high cupboards, the height of grip bars or uneven flooring. They will assess how you move between rooms and within rooms and spaces, and whether you can use those spaces in a way that is safe and independent.

Gabriella Dumitru recently called BlueZoneHome to evaluate her mother Nella’s living situation, and says she was surprised at some of the recommendations they made.

“My mom always had trouble leaving the house,” Dumitru recalls. “There was just a very small, five-centimetre difference between our entryway and our deck. And they noticed that might be an issue for her, which it was, and I just never thought anything about it.”

The company’s contractors also cut the bathtub so Nella could walk right in, then added glass doors, all without having to destroy the bathroom or put in a whole new fixture.

In addition to levelling out the entranceway and altering the tub, the company recommended installing an outside chair lift, couch lifts and a hydraulic-lift floor crane for emergencies. Dumitru says that the changes, which amounted to roughly $15,000, have been instrumental in keeping her mother at home — especially as Nella transitioned to a wheelchair.

“The outside stair lift has been invaluable to be able to take my mom in and out of the house, especially since she has dialysis treatments three times a week,” Dumitru says. “Without the renovations, we could not have continued to care for her at home. It was definitely worth it, because now I know my mom is well taken care of and I can keep an eye on changes to her health. Not just her physical health, but also her mental health. We have time together now.”

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READ MORE: Many seniors struggle with loneliness. The pandemic has only made it worse

Want to learn more about preparing your home to age in place? Contact BlueZoneHome for more information.

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