How to Continue to Live at Home as You Age

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Maybe you've lived in your home for 40 years. Maybe you love your neighborhood. Or maybe you simply want to pass down your property to your children. Regardless of the reason, most people want to stay in their homes as they age.

The good news: It may very well be possible. By carefully thinking through your options now, your home environment can meet your needs for the rest of your life. Here are some suggestions.

Modify your house

Narrow hallways, slippery floors, steps — homes are filled with hazards for an aging person. But making modifications and repairs can prevent a dangerous home accident. "Falls are the leading cause of death and disability among older people," says Elinor Ginzler, coauthor of Caring for Your Parents. Increase safety with these simple, quick methods.

  • Remove throw rugs to prevent tripping
  • Install motion-sensor lighting to make nighttime trips to the bathroom less perilous
  • Use a no-skid spray on slippery floor surfaces like tiles and linoleum
  • Install grab bars in tubs and on stairs
  • Remove knobs on cupboards and replace them with lever handles, which are easier to grasp

Of course, you may want to make more extensive renovations to your home, such as installing ramps or redesigning your kitchen and bathroom. Think about working with a certified aging-in-place specialist (CAPS), a builder who has been trained by the National Association of Home Builders to assess the improvements you may need.

Compare plans to find the right one for you

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Enlist your family

Make sure your family knows you wish to remain in your home as long as possible. You can do that in an advanced care directive, a legal document which lays out the type of care you want toward the end of your life. Better to have forthright discussions up front so that you can discuss how your desire to stay at home can be achieved. Adult children may not realize that parents can be safe at home if the right modifications are made.

Consider long-term-care insurance

Paying for home care can be enormously pricey. At an average of $20 an hour, the services of a home health aide can add up to more than $3,000 a month for 9-to-5 care, Monday through Friday.

Medicare, the government insurance program for older adults, and private health insurance usually don't cover long-term home care, including 24-hour-care or custodial care. (Some Medicare Advantage plans do, however, cover certain home health care services, which are services that are provided by a skilled nurse, health aide, or therapist.)

To get home care help, you must either pay for it out-of-pocket or use long-term-care insurance. Policies differ, but long-term-care coverage often kicks in if you are unable to perform at least two activities of daily living like bathing, dressing, going to the toilet, or feeding yourself for 90 days. It tends to be most affordable when purchased in middle age, long before most people develop health-related disabilities.

Find the money in your house

If you need additional funds to pay for a home help aide or make renovations to your house, you might qualify for a reverse mortgage, which lets you convert the equity in your home into cash. "Quite often the house is the largest asset people have and it can be a good source of money," says Katana Abbott, a certified financial planner in Commerce, Michigan, and the founder of Designated Daughter, a support network for caregivers.

The more equity you have in your home, the more cash you can borrow. The loan usually only comes due if you sell your home, move out, or pass away. In the last case, your heirs can either sell the home or pay off the loan balance themselves. If you owe more than the home is worth, the lender takes the loss.

You must be at least 62 years old to qualify for most reverse mortgages. In general, the older you are and the more your home is worth, the more equity you can access. You can receive the money in several ways: a lump sum payment, a line of credit, monthly payments, or some combination of all three. Closing costs are subtracted from your remaining equity, so there are few out-of-pocket expenses.

There are a few drawbacks: Fees on a reverse mortgage are usually higher than on a regular mortgage, so it makes most sense if you intend to stay in your home for several more years. You also will not be able to leave the house unencumbered by debt to your children, which can be a factor if they have an emotional attachment to it.

Speak to a licensed Aetna representative about Medicare
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