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Aging In Place

Like most Americans, you probably want to stay in your home as you grow older; however, as it gets harder to do things on your own, you may need a helping hand with everyday tasks.

It can be costly to pay for help at home, along with housing modifications and other health needs. Older Americans often hold onto their home as a nest egg in case they need extra money, but when that rainy day arrives, how do you tap the equity in your home? Some people may tell you to sell the house and move to assisted living or a nursing home.

There is another option. If you've owned your house for many years, it could be worth a lot more than you paid to buy it. Home equity is the difference between the appraised value of your home and what you owe on any mortgages. A reverse mortgage can help you convert some of your home equity into cash and continue to live at home for as long as you want. Using the equity in your home can seem like a good idea, but is it right for you? It is a decision you should consider carefully, because the house may be your most valuable financial asset.

People who need help at home face many challenges. An ongoing health problem can make it hard to know how much longer you can continue to live at home. You should also be aware of government benefits and community programs for seniors, and how a reverse mortgage may affect your eligibility for these programs. It will help you ask the right questions and plan ahead so that you can stay at home as long as possible. Talking with family and a knowledgeable financial advisor can also help.

Challenges of Aging in Place
In the past, when an older person had trouble living alone, that was a signal it was time to move in with family or go to a nursing home. But for most people, this is no longer the case. Today, you can receive a wide range of services and support in your home or community. New advances in medicine and technology are helping people with complex medical problems to stay in their own homes for many years. This is often called aging in place.

It is crucial to plan ahead as much as possible. Answering these questions can help you get started: 1) Will living at home work for me?; 2) What resources do I have to help me stay at home?; and, 3) How long can I continue to live at home?

Will Living at Home Work for Me?
First, make sure that your home is safe and comfortable, and fits your needs. Check that the services you want are available in your area. If it is difficult for you to live by yourself, you should consider other options, such as a retirement community or assisted living.

The Right Housing for You
Where you live and the home itself can keep you from aging in place. Think about these factors to see if staying in your home makes sense:
  • Changing needs
    A house that was ideal 30 years ago may now be too difficult to handle alone. Older houses often need a lot of costly maintenance, improvements, or repairs.
  • Safety
    A house with cluttered furniture or steep stairs is an accident waiting to happen. Unsafe neighborhoods may make you afraid to go shopping or attend social activities.
  • Isolation
    A trip to the grocery store, pharmacy, or place of worship can be a problem when you cannot drive. It is easy to feel lonely or trapped when family and friends are far away.
  • Ease of use
    If you need a walker or a wheelchair, it helps to have a bedroom on the first level, grab bars in the bathroom, and ramps for the entrance of the house. You can fix some of these conditions by modifying your home.
Cost of Supportive Services
When you get help at home, usually someone comes into your house from a home health agency. Professional services in your home can be expensive. Some service providers charge by the hour, while others charge for each home visit. While services in the home and community may cost less than in a nursing home, these home-based expenses can add up over time. If you need a few hours of help from a home health aide in the morning and at night, you could easily spend $76 per day, or $2,280 per month.

Support from Others
Most older Americans who have difficulty doing everyday tasks depend on family and friends for help. Children can run errands, provide transportation, and maintain the house. Neighbors may help with yard work or home repairs. A spouse or adult children can also provide a high level of loving care.

Personal Finances
Paying for in-home services and other health-related expenses can quickly use up a big part of a retirement nest egg. Review your finances carefully. They will be an important part of your decision to remain at home. Your finances include income, savings, and investments.

Estimate your household budget. Work out your income and living expenses, along with the monthly cost of any loans and credit card debt. You also have to budget for home repairs and maintenance, and keep up with insurance and tax payments.

Keep an eye on cash flow. Make sure you have enough money readily available each month to pay for expenses. Your need for help may vary as your health changes.

If you have financial resources such as stocks, bonds, or property other than your home, you could sell those assets to get more money now. If you own a life insurance policy, you may be able to use part of the death benefit to pay for supportive services (accelerated benefit). If you have very limited finances, you may be eligible for government programs.

Housing Options to Living at Home
Living with an ongoing health condition can be hard. You may need to change your living situation when you experience the following: Cannot take care of yourself or manage the home on your own anymore have had several falls or other accidents need round-the-clock supervision (such as in the later stages of Alzheimers disease).

One option may be to live with your children. First, think about how this will work. How easy will it be to live together? Will your kids have to make changes to their house, such as adding grab bars or building a ramp? Who will pay for expenses such as rent? You may not want to move because you are afraid of losing your independence.

Today, there are many attractive housing choices where you can get the help you need. Senior housing makes it easier to live independently by offering services such as transportation and social activities. In assisted living, you can live in a private apartment and get help with everyday activities. Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), or life care communities, offer a full range of services from independent living, to assisted living, and nursing care.

2011 - Rajiv Nagaich