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Aging in place: How to make your home a retirement haven

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Geraldine McGuire and her husband carefully planned their Sooke, B.C. home with the aging process in mind. The home was built with wide hallways, a walk-in shower, no tight spaces or stairways and limited carpeting.

Chad Hippolito

There's an old proverb that says, "Home is where the heart is," and for many Canadian retirees, the heart lies in the family home. There's little appetite to abandon that home, even when health issues come into play.

According to the 2015 RBC Retirement Myths & Realities Poll – a survey of 2,200 Canadians aged 50 and over – the majority of respondents said they would choose to remain at home and pay for home care as needed, rather than moving in with relatives or into a retirement home.

Consistent with these findings are Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) statistics, which show that Canadians aged 55-64 have the highest rates of home ownership across all age groups, with about 77 per cent owning their home. Those aged 65-74 come in a close second, with a 76 per cent home ownership rate.

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The desire to age in place is a sentiment Geraldine McGuire can relate to. The 64-year-old Sooke, B.C. resident has lived in her custom-built, 2,570-square-foot home overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca since she retired 14 years ago.

"I'm very glad we had the foresight to plan our home," says Ms. McGuire. She and her late husband carefully planned their house with one key factor driving the design: Ms. McGuire's mother used a wheelchair, giving the couple first-hand knowledge of mobility impairments. "It really made us think about that and the aging process," she recalls.

The home was built with wide hallways, a walk-in shower, no tight spaces or stairways and limited carpeting. "There's nothing hindering me in what I do," says Ms. McGuire, who owns two dogs, two cats and keeps active with local art committees and animal causes.

Complementing her home's suitability is Ms. McGuire's dependable support network. A neighbour assists with mechanical problems. Two sisters live nearby. "The neighbours always check to see if I need anything," she says. Ms. McGuire's biggest challenge is her one-hectare property, which means she hires people to do yard work and regular maintenance. Her retirement budget can handle upkeep expenses.

"I'm very fortunate that I have a pension that allows me to live with some security," she adds.

Audrey Miller is well aware of what's necessary for seniors to remain in their homes. A registered social worker and Canadian Certified Life Care Planner, Ms. Miller has spent three decades working with families and caregivers. For the last 11 years, Ms. Miller has been managing director of Toronto-based Elder Caring Inc.

"Everyone wants to stay in their home as long as possible," notes Ms. Miller, who has already started contemplating her own retirement. She acknowledges that having to move can be a daunting prospect, particularly for those who have been living in the same place for decades.

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"According to the 2015 RBC Retirement Myths and Realities Poll – a survey of 2,200 Canadians aged 50 and over – the majority of respondents said they would choose to remain at home and pay for home care as needed, rather than moving in with relatives or into a retirement home."

Here is Ms. Miller's advice on how to sustain "home sweet home" as the years roll on:

1. Talk about it

"Start thinking about it and talking about it with everybody," counsels Ms. Miller. Initiate frank, inclusive discussions at family meetings as a way to plan for the future. "When deciding whether to age in place, consider the 'three Cs': care, cost and choice."

She adds, "You have to look at today, the intermediate period and long-term. If you're not planning, you're reacting."

2. Evaluate assets and determine how much money will be needed

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As Canadians' life expectancies rise, seniors may not realize they will need more funds to finance longer lives. Consult a financial planner to get a full accounting of your assets and income. It's crucial to know, for example, how much government funding exists and what's available to you in terms of social programs – for example, personal support workers – and assistance from your family.

To remain at home, expenses like renovations and maintenance have to be taken into account. Downsizing may make sense if outsized costs (like getting a new roof or fixing flood damage) are unaffordable.

3. Honestly assess any health considerations

Once you are committed to aging in place, your current and anticipated health needs have to be honestly evaluated and planned for, says Ms. Miller. A condition like dementia, for example, which is forecast to affect one-third of those over age 85, can't be ignored.

4. Think about modifications to make your home a retirement haven

Home modifications are usually also recommended if you decide to age in place, more so if a condition like Parkinson's arises. "It's about safety," stresses Ms. Miller, noting that health issues related to falls are the number one reason people end up leaving their homes.

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In the bathroom, consider installing safety features such as grab-bars, walk-in tubs and raised toilets. Adding non-slip rugs, hand rails and superior lighting and removing tripping hazards like electrical cords are also essential to safer retirement living. Personal medical alert systems, which can be activated in an emergency, are useful aids to living independently. Also, consider whether the home can accommodate a stair-glider or elevator, or whether all living could be kept on one level.

5. Strengthen your support system

It's vital to maintain friendships and social supports, notes Ms. Miller. Rather than phone calls, regular visits from family or a caregiver can help ensure that safety is being monitored. Purposeful activity should also be encouraged to ward off isolation and loneliness. For some seniors, that may mean bringing activities right into their home.

Ms. Miller's final piece of advice: "Everyone is unique and making sure your home is safe and able to meet your particular needs can go a long way in promoting healthy aging."


This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's advertising department in consultation with RBC. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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