According to 2013 data, 50% of females and 40% of males 65 years and older in New Zealand have mobility impairments. This indicates that as we age our mobility declines, and while this is not always true and you an do a number of things to keep mobile (see here and here), thinking ahead and preparing for how you might live your life with mobility changes is not a bad idea. Our home is where most of us spend our time, which is why it deserves time being spent planning and prepping for perhaps a less mobile future. Especially if you are wanting to ‘age in place’.
Planning is all a part of ‘positive ageing’. It helps you to anticipate and meet changing needs in a planned way, and keeps you in control of decisions that affect you.
Good housing is critical as we age. There are three factors that affect how well our houses support our lives:
- their ability to cater to and adapt to our changing needs
- their nearness to people, places and services that are important to us, and
- their connectedness to transport, communications and information technologies.
Adapting your home for future needs
If you are planning renovations to your home, incorporate ‘universal design’ features such as a wet area shower, raised sockets, and cupboards at practical heights. Consider how these would enhance your home not only now but also in the future if your sight or mobility changes.
Take note property developers and those who own rentals – especially as there is a move towards more older people renting. Making sure that new housing stock, or rentals that are currently on the market fit the bill. You do not want exclude a potential market.
Some basic features of universal design include:
- flat access to the main entrance
- kitchen, bathroom and at least one sleeping area at entry level (this sleeping area could also be used as a study or living area)
- all rooms large enough for residents to move around easily
- light switches, socket outlets and door handles at easily reached uniform heights.
- lever-style door handles (easier to grip and open than door knobs)
- kitchen benches and other work or storage spaces at the appropriate height
- light switches beside beds and a telephone outlet by the main bed
- doors opening outwards in small bathroom areas
- grab bars beside toilets
- a wet area or level access shower
- all walkways and doorways wide enough for strollers, wheelchairs or mobility scooters to easily pass through (an 810mm-wide doorway will allow minimum clearance for wheelchairs of 760mm width)
- garages and carports large enough for wheelchair access around vehicles.
A lot of the features of universal design can be easily built into any new home often at no or little cost. Research has shown that it is considerably cheaper and less disruptive to build universal design features into a new home than retrofit the same house later.
Think ahead about what you might need to set up for in the future. For example, you might ask the builder to put in extra dwangs/nogs so you can put grab rails above the bath or toilet. This would be a minimal cost, if any, if you did this when you were building.
House and garden maintenance
Maintenance can become a problem if you become less able to DIY, live alone or have financial pressures. It pays to explore all the options and anticipate what may need doing on your home in the future.
Many local Age Concerns provide advice and contacts for reliable tradespeople and home services.
Concerns about garden maintenance are commonly cited as reasons for moving. See if you qualify for a Disability Allowance, if so you may be able to get some help with gardening. If not, you could think outside the square: could you rent out your garden, or perhaps there is someone who’d love the opportunity to look after the garden for themselves and in return give you some of the produce?
Planning for your future puts you in control and allows you to continue to live the life you want. Do not put it off! And if you are planning on building, think about incorporating the above suggestions.