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What is a certified aging-in-place specialist, and do you need one?

Expert advice for seniors who want to stay at home

Two people deciding on new interior decorating designs. Credit: Getty Images / DragonImages

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The CDC defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” Not surprisingly, more and more people are choosing to do so.

Statistics show that 76% of Americans age 50 and older say they prefer to remain in their current home or age in place for as long as possible. Understandably, they want to remain in the homes they have known and loved, not to mention the neighborhoods and communities they have close ties to.

While aging in place sounds like a nice idea, there are quite a few things to consider before your wishes can become a reality. Not the least of which is determining whether aging in place is even possible with your home’s current setup.

For many people, the answer is no. Looking back to a survey from 2018, AARP reported that as much as 63% of seniors anticipated the need for home modifications to accommodate their choice to age in place.

And, while some modifications may be easy enough, there are plenty more that require the help of a trained professional—otherwise known as a certified aging-in-place specialist (CAPS). Here’s what you need to know.

What is a certified aging-in-place specialist?

Two older people sitting at table having a conversation with specialist.
Credit: Getty Images / Inside Creative House

Certified aging-in-place specialists are wise hires for seniors and handicapped adults that desire to live alone.

A certified aging-in-place specialist is someone who is intimately familiar with the home remodeling market and the technology, tools, and resources that help seniors age in place.

These specialists understand the needs of the aging population and offer practical solutions that address those needs. Moreover, they are well-versed in the codes and standards, products, and ideas needed to make the homeowner’s dreams come to fruition.

A certified aging-in-place specialist can identify and make home modifications to help aging seniors live independently and safely in their own homes. They often work with interior designers and contractors to create barrier-free living spaces, and they can modify homes to meet the specific functional needs of the individual.

What types of home modifications should you consider?

Modern bathroom with accessibly hand rails and seat in shower.
Credit: Getty Images / Onzeg

Most CAPS can help you decide which accessible and functional improvements are necessary to help you live independently.

The home modifications you choose ultimately depend on what you feel is necessary for your comfort and safety. For most people, typical modifications by a CAPS includes installing grab bars for tubs and toilets in bathrooms, installing or reinforcing handrails and applying non-slip treads on stairways, and replacing door knobs with lever handles.

Keep in mind, though, that specific medical needs may dictate some of the changes you make to your home. For example, if wheelchair access is necessary, more extensive modifications may be required, such as widened doorways or ramps.

Other modifications you may want to consider include switching to a low-maintenance yard, including plants, shrubs, and other greenery, as well as adjusting for low-maintenance interior finishes, lowering kitchen cabinetry, switching to pull-down shelving, and raising or lowering appliances as needed.

These modification ideas are just thought-starters; it’s not an exhaustive list. But we certainly understand that with anything new, you don’t know what you don’t know. So, for more ideas, you might take a look at this comprehensive remodeling checklist for aging in place offered by the the National Association of Home Builders. Keep in mind that all of the modifications on the list can be done by a CAPS.

When should you contact a CAPS?

Older person sitting down with specialist in front of paperwork.
Credit: Getty Images / Shapecharge

Asking pertinent questions are essential in finding a contractor without the help of a CAPS.

While you may have a spouse, a family friend, or a favorite handyman that you tend to lean on, some projects may require a more specialized know-how.

If you already know that you will age in place, there’s no time like the present to set the wheels in motion. Ideally, you wouldn’t want to wait until expensive modifications become necessary and time-sensitive. Taking a proactive approach to home modifications gives you more time to plan carefully and budget accordingly. If you’re already well into your retirement, then again, the sooner, the better.

Before you begin working with any contractor, it’s important to do your due diligence to find the best person for the job. Asking the right questions beforehand can save you a lot of time and aggravation on the backend.

Be ready to ask questions, and lots of them. How much experience do you have with this type of work? Are you licensed, bonded, and insured? What is the timeline for completion?

Always get some personal references and ask for a written estimate before you sign any contracts.

Home modifications for aging in place can range from simple things like securing rugs and replacing door knobs to more complex projects like adding a bathroom for one-floor living or adding a wheelchair ramp.

Ultimately, seeking out professional help is really just a matter of safety. A certified aging-in-place specialist might just offer a little more peace of mind.

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