Older South Dakotans report that it is very important to stay in the home for as long as possible. Unfortunately, most housing in South Dakota is not designed to meet the changing needs of a lifetime. Most homes are missing one or more of the basic accessibility (lever-style door handles and faucets; extra-wide hallways and doors; accessible electrical controls; no-step entry; and single-level living option). Even when these features are present, it does not mean that a home is aging-in-place ready. For example, feature of the laundry room or kitchen may make it difficult to preform critical routine tasks.
Universal design (UD) emerged in the 1980s as an approach to design that aims to create products and environments to be used by people of all ages, sizes, and abilities, with minimal need for specialized disability-specific features (e.g., lower counter type height). UD may seem like a rather daunting and expensive approach, but in fact, increasing implementation in new housing will likely reduce the need for costly structural renovations.
Given the condition of the current stock of homes, it is critical for adults who plan to remain in the home to complete home modifications necessary for aging in place. Perhaps the most critical feature to consider is having the option for single level living on the entry level. This means that there is a bedroom or a room that could be used for sleeping and an accessible bathroom on same floor that is used to entry and exit them home. A home can still be multi-story so long as the option for single level living is available. Please note that the vast majority of homes have at least one step up to enter the building. Therefore, a ramp will likely be needed eventually to ensure the entry level can be accessed by someone using a wheelchair.
Other considerations for aging in place:
- Transportation: how will you reach desired destinations when you are no longer able to drive? Are services like Lyft or Uber available in your community? Is there a public bus or transportation service? Are friends or loved ones able to help get you two and from errands?
- Services: what options are available for home (meal preparation, laundry, etc.) and health (medication management, wound care, etc.) care in the home? Is an adult child or other family member able to help? How much do your preferred services cost? How will you pay for those services?
- Social activities: what activities are most important to you (e.g., church)? How will you continue to engage in those activities? Are your preferred activities in close proximity to your home?
Tips to get started on making your home aging-in-place ready:
- Assess your current home to identify features that may make it more difficult to remain in the home if you or a loved one develop an activity limiting disability (e.g., laundry room in the basement). You may want to consult a Certified Aging in Place Specialist.
- Make a list of the most important features you would like included in your forever home. Prioritize items from most to least important.
- Identify local building laws that you must adhere to as you develop your renovation plan. If you are planning to renovate the entire home, you may want to enlist the help of a designer and a project manager.
- Secure permits and financing for the project.
- Closely monitor the project as it progresses to ensure the specifications you requested are implemented, particularly those needed to make your home aging-in-place ready. .