A home to retire in
August 4, 2016 9:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm hoping for help in imagining what my body and my needs will be like when I'm retired, in 30+ years' time, as I look for a home or a piece of property. The lifestyle things are obvious--a garden, proximity to friends/family/community, room for houseguests--but what else about the physical property ought I keep in mind?

When looking at a home (or a piece of vacant property) that I'd like to live in after I retire, I'm thinking about things like:
- one level or minimal stairs
- proximity to a hospital

I see these things as especially important for an older person's body. There have got to be other things that make a home especially well-suited to an older person's physical needs. I can't think of them.

What else about a home's physical features & environment would make a 70- or 80-year-old happy and comfortable?
posted by monkeymonkey to Home & Garden (38 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
A first-floor bathroom that is ADA-compliant. I wish I had one for when my 77-year-old mother visits. She has recovered beautifully from the stroke she had two years ago, but I wish I had grab bars, safer floor surfaces, and a shower she could access more easily. These things are also useful if you're a younger person who suffers a temporary injury.
posted by BicycleFace at 9:43 PM on August 4, 2016 [10 favorites]

A walkable neighborhood and/or easy access to public transportation, because eventually you won't be able to drive.
posted by MsMolly at 9:46 PM on August 4, 2016 [21 favorites]

A bathroom that can easily be remodeled to accommodate a wheelchair or walker, with a shower that will hold a seated person + assistant. Ideally a master bedroom with a *lot* of space, like a newer-style (or from a certain style of construction from the late 60s-early 70s) master suite that will accommodate both a bed and recliner plus TV and dressers and bedside tables and all that. (This last bit was a huge deal in my grandparents' declining years, as for 6 years one or the other was suffering from reflux or ulcer or head/neck cancer or shingles or bad back or respiratory issues or otherwise couldn't sleep lying down. And then at the end there was room for a caretaker to sleep in the room with them.)

I would want as open a plan as possible in the common areas, for mobility purposes.

Solid HVAC ducting. The best possible car-to-door routing.

You'll eventually want firm but not hard flooring. In another AskMe right now people are discussing the more annoying issues of hard tile flooring, which not only breaks everything you drop but also breaks your bones and head when you fall.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:47 PM on August 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

Also, possibly seething with minimal lawncare, unless you're sure you'll be able to afford to hire someone to do it.
posted by MsMolly at 9:47 PM on August 4, 2016

Yes, a walk-in shower without a step or lip to step over.

Doorways wide enough for wheelchair use if necessary.

Proximity of bathroom to bedroom, for night-time visits.

Storage in the kitchen and elsewhere that doesn't require a huge amount of bending, stretching, ladders, or other contortions. E.g. my mother now struggles to access the under-stair storage at her house, and it's really the only place to keep large objects, as she has no hall cupboards or garage space.

If there's a garage, an automatic door is pretty important, but can usually be installed later. Just make sure there's enough room for one, and an electricity access point there.

Warmth. Older people feel the cold more. You want good insulation and heating, and preferably rooms that have good sun during the day.
posted by lollusc at 9:50 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

A neighborhood where you can walk or take public transit to most of the things you'll want to do when you eventually stop driving. When I was living in NYC I always told people that if you could afford it, it was the best place in the country to be an old person because everything was accessible by the subway and there was nothing you couldn't get delivered.

Kitchen equipment and storage that doesn't require too much bending over--e.g. wall ovens.

Lots of good lighting.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:55 PM on August 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

Maybe consider a Japanese-style toilet/bidet type thing, with the built-in wash/dry/etc functions. My parents had one retrofitted into their bathroom (seemed pretty straightforward, like a super fancy toilet seat with an extra console attached), after having taken care of my grandmother in her declining years. (They figure they might as well start getting used to it early.)
posted by btfreek at 10:11 PM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think in a few years time it will be easier to get things delivered and picked up from rural areas. I'm in the sticks and I now have uber and Amazon prime and stop and shop peapod! In a little rural town of 12,000! I think driverless cars and drones and magic we haven't even thought of will take care of transit and getting stuff to your house. I'd focus on community and accessibility within the home, and proximity to a good hospital. +100 if you're rich and can retire in NYC.
posted by slateyness at 10:11 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Kitchen cabinets (below the counter) with pull-out shelves. Imagine having to kneel to pull stuff from the back of the bottom shelf, and you'll see why pullouts are a great idea. If you must remodel your retirement home, this modification is cheap and easy.

Also, give some thought to the commode, height, and handy bars to help you to be seated, unseated, with a modicum of grace.
posted by mule98J at 10:11 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you plan on living in a place with snow/ice, then considering what the driveway and walkways look like - a corner lot has a lot of sidewalk to clean up and a long driveway can be a hassle.

If there are stairs up to the front door, I would also consider whether a ramp could be installed.
posted by Toddles at 10:19 PM on August 4, 2016

On the bathroom theme (and applicable to the kitchen): taps designed for people with access/mobility issues, especially if arthritis might be on your horizon. I once stayed with an older woman who very sensibly replaced the old twist taps with these when she had her bathrooms redone because her mother had had painful arthritis in her hands.
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 10:33 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

To add on to Toddles' excellent points, an attached garage is a godsend in miserable weather. Some sort of protective overhang shading exterior doors, too, for respite while you're fumbling with your keys post-walk.

What will be the mail delivery system at your new place? How will emergency services work? Do you want to budget for an extra bedroom (ideally with an attached bath), to age in place with live-in help? An "in-law" suite?

Look into universal design principles. Accessible wall switches and outlets (made child-proof with protective covers, if you'll have young kids visiting) save headaches, and newer windows are easier to maneuver than original or misaligned ones. If you'll have (invariably treacherous) area rugs, be vigilant about keeping the edges tacked down and opt for borders that are highly visible against the floor.

Consider switching your regular dishes from glass tumblers and ceramic plates to enamelware.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:14 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Plan your life around not being able to drive at some point.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:27 PM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you are part of a couple consider that, as you age, one or both of you may start to suffer from ailments that make it undesirable to share a bedroom (if that's what you currently do) and that you may therefore want two master bedrooms perhaps connected to the same bathroom to allow everybody to get a good night's sleep.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:35 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Many of the suggestions here are things that with some money can be upgraded or changed when needed. But access to public transportation is vital in my book. I am retired and being just a short walk away from public transit has made me able to adopt a car-free life that saves money, reduces stress, increases independence and mobility. Buying a home close to public transit is one of the best decisions I ever made.
posted by marsha56 at 11:37 PM on August 4, 2016 [16 favorites]

An extra room if you need a carer or relative to stay and help you.
posted by oneear at 11:37 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Safeway delivers any order over $49.00 for a small price. There are drugstores that deliver although maybe not in all places. There is drugstore.com online.
In the Portland area, Tri-Met picks up those who cannot drive to doctor's appointment, etc. I think there is a minimum charge, and maybe a two-hour window for the service. I am really not sure.
Look into long term insurance to care for the elderly. You must be relatively young and healthy to qualify for it. Check if your insurance includes hospice/ home hospice/palliative care. Those things might be provided by Medicare. Oh and btw, sign up for Medicare as soon as you are eligible. Delayed signing incurs a permanent financial penalty.
If you or your spouse are military service veterans you can be buried for free in a military cemetery. Only the burial is free; you pay a funeral home for your funeral, casket, urn, whatever.
posted by Cranberry at 11:59 PM on August 4, 2016

My parents did this: got a nice one-floor house with attached garage. It worked out well for them. It's huge to not have to get used to a new place when you are declining.

Only thing they didn't think of: big bathrooms. There should be more than enough room to maneuver with a walker.

Looking at the kitchen, imagine not being able to stand for long, or reach very high. Are there cabinets within reach, is there a surface next to the stove or refrigerator?

My Dad drove till he was 93, to our terror. Again, make sure there's room to move all around the car with a walker, and the entrance to the house is easy and flat. (You can handle one step with a walker. Not two.)

Maybe check audibility: if someone is having trouble in the bathroom, can they be heard in the living room?
posted by zompist at 12:00 AM on August 5, 2016

Something to consider: a lot of my parents' friends moved to one story houses to "grow old" and subsequently gained a ton of weight and got out of shape. My parents have three stories and it's keeping them fit! You could always look for a two story house with a bathroom and possible bedroom on 1st floor in case it's really necessary.

Seconding being able to walk somewhere. This exists outside of a big city if you like a quieter lifestyle.
posted by beyond_pink at 5:28 AM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

As mentioned above, universal design is going to be your key search term for interior issues. And some architectural eras and styles lend themselves much better to accessibility than others, like mid century and ranch houses, for example.

In addition to the hospital, think about access to specialists or a teaching hospital. There are conveniences to a smaller town, but traveling to get medical care is not fun.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:32 AM on August 5, 2016

Floors, as mentioned above, make a big difference - consider the effects on your safety. I'd say put carpeting (short, so it won't interfere with a walker or wheelchair) everywhere you can, and for bathrooms/kitchen do some sort of linoleum or cork. No tile. Hard, slippery surfaces like that become very dangerous when there could be falls.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:47 AM on August 5, 2016

It's important now to consider things like the width of the doorways and passways, the number of steps into the house (and whether a ramp will fit), and the feasibility of ignoring all rooms which are not on the main floor.

Considering grocery delivery, lawn care, grab bars, faucet/handle shape, etc, are things that you would contract for or remodel once you started needing them, but they are not anything that you at age 40-50 (you say this is in 30 years time that you're worrying about). Assuming you have enough money to pay for these things, all you need is enough space to make them happen in. But I think some of the comments about what you should look for are geared more toward the idea that you need them now/soon, not that you just need to be able to add them.
posted by aimedwander at 6:49 AM on August 5, 2016

The same type of flooring in every room so that you have a smooth surface throughout, minimizing tripping. Wide doors and hallways. A large bedroom and living room with minimal furniture to keep cleaning easy. A neighborhood near a school, so that you can sit on your porch (you will want a porch) and greet the neighborhood children. A yard with raised gardens. A neighborhood with good sidewalks - walking every evening until you can't will improve your life.
posted by myselfasme at 6:50 AM on August 5, 2016

universal design is going to be your key search term for interior issues.

Exactly, think about functionality stuff where your ability to use the thing will help keep you more safe and secure. Specifically

- easy to use locks on doors
- faucets with paddle handles or otherwise easy-to turn on/off
- really good bright lighting especially in places like kitchens/bathrooms
- stoves with big knobs and clear "I am ON/OFF" indicators
- electrical outlets at good heights to use them
- tools for replacing lightbulbs, stuff not tucked away in inaccessible areas
- walk-in showers
- ability to deal with climate control decently and inexpensively if you are on a fixed income (some solar installation companies can guarantee you an electric bill a fixed distance into the future)
- really good smoke and CO2 alarms
- easy to use (and see) thermostats with zone controls if possible
- lack of barriers for driving & getting in and out of the house

And socially I'd look for a place that has a nice senior center and/or maybe a shuttle that can take folks to doctor's appointments and shopping etc. This is not just good for people with mobility issues, it's social and gets you out of the house. Along these lines A GOOD LIBRARY which has friendly staff and programming forpeople of all ages.
posted by jessamyn at 6:54 AM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Wide enough hallways and doorways to easily accommodate a walker or a wheelchair. I think code most places is 36", but we have friends who did wider ones and it was such a smart idea on their part.

No steps at doors, or room to easily put a ramp.

If you're partnered, two bathrooms on the main floor so that if you both need to go one of you isn't stuck waiting.
posted by notjustthefish at 7:43 AM on August 5, 2016

I'm 61. When I was ill for a while, having a pleasant view was a big help. And in 30 years, global climate change may have made its big changes, so if I were investing, I would consider location carefully.
posted by theora55 at 9:40 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh god yes, when you remodel the bathroom have the it wired for toilet electricity, so you can put in at least the middle-of-line TOTO Japanese toilet sooner or later.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:20 AM on August 5, 2016

Proximity to a library is a big one in my mind. Second: proximity to a multiuse trail.
posted by yclipse at 11:41 AM on August 5, 2016

No door sills for interior doors.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:52 AM on August 5, 2016

There's an issue of National Geographic in my grocery now on world and US regions that have long-lived, healthy citizens. Constant mild exercise and mutual interaction with other people seems to be a common thread. (One of the problems with _some_ of the retirement places I've visited is that people who make strong ties are less likely to up and move, so retirement regions have filtered for non-cooperators. If there's nothing planned to counteract that, you can have a sorry polity. )
posted by clew at 12:38 PM on August 5, 2016

When you're considering local medical care, look carefully at how close your nearest cancer center is. Considering something like one in three people get cancer eventually, it will possibly be something you'll need to use. And trust me, you don't want to have to travel a long way to get your chemo.
posted by MsMolly at 1:31 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks all for your answers. I welcome any more, especially those that focus on what it is like to move through a home with a 70+ year old body.

Intriguing side note: where I live, not having a car is the norm. I'm surprised at how driving-centric some of these answers are!
posted by monkeymonkey at 1:36 PM on August 5, 2016

The elderly still have to get places, possibly with limited mobility or cognitive function, so you will need to take that into consideration in your planning, whether you move to somewhere with regionally more affordable/retirement-friendly housing and amenities (a lot of those places don't have public transportation of any real significance, and this is true on multiple continents) or stay in your area.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:08 PM on August 5, 2016

Ideally, no stairs -- prioritize toilets, and a kitchen with a good 'work triangle' -- a bedroom with some extra space so if you're laid up for a while, you can have a teevee, or a chair for visitors, or other things in there besides just a bed -- storage that doesn't require bending down or using a ladder -- good heating and cooling -- if I was in a multi-unit dwelling and did not have to do the upkeep myself, a pool -- maintenance minimized/somebody paid to deal with it all -- a walkable neighbourhood or nearby public transit to a pleasant walkable neighbourhood -- friends/family nearby -- good food delivery available -- public amenities like gyms, libraries, community centres
posted by kmennie at 5:57 PM on August 5, 2016

Libraries are so important. In addition to the information and entertainment, they offer a free, comfortable place to hang out and see faces different from the ones you live with.

High on my list is being able to exercise, no matter what your physical condition. Water exercise is very accessible, so that means being near enough to clean water (be it a pond or a pool).

Aging doesn't mean you'd lose interest in hobbies, so plan for enough room for sewing quilts or playing Sousaphone or assembling robots.
posted by Jesse the K at 7:20 PM on August 5, 2016

What is it like to move through a home with a 70 year old body? Some main things:

I can go up and down the stairs in front and back (solid handrails!), but rarely go into the basement or upstairs to the guest room and half bath any more. Mr. K does the laundry in the basement; having washer & dryer on the main floor would be wonderful, but the renovation would cost more than we can afford.

The bathroom is right next to our bedroom. Most of my friends agree that at 70 we spend a lot more time going in and out of the bathroom than we expected when we were young. Not many people need a wheelchair, and having a bathroom that's accessible means you lose the benefits of a small bathroom: hold on to the doorway, step in, hold on to the sink, turn, hold on to the wall right next to the toilet. A really good grab bar or two help immensely with getting in and out of the shower.

Good light makes a huge amount of difference, as you age and tend to spend more and more time at home. Big windows for natural light (esp. in the Pacific NW!). Plenty of sturdy lamps, with 3 way bulbs so you can turn them up really bright when you want to. Good light by where you sit and read, to help as your eyes get dimmer.

The one thing no one has mentioned, but is absolutely central: don't buy anything bigger than you (hope) you can maintain. Of course it's hard to predict what anyone's financial situation is going to be decades down the road, but if you're thinking ahead you should include that. I don't mean cleaning or yard work, I mean having the money to keep your home going: replace the hot water heater, replace the roof, repaint the house, replace the furnace, replace the rotten wood under the windows and on the porch -- and then repeat every 10 or 15 or 20 years.

And now here's the Big One, straight from the mouth of a 70+ year old. You ask "What else about a home's physical features & environment would make a 70- or 80-year-old happy and comfortable?" By 75 years of age, if you've been lucky enough to grow wise, "happy and comfortable" does not depend on outside circumstances very much. You carry that state in your heart and your mind and your memory. So I say, spend some time thinking about what makes you happy now, and revel in that, and that's the best planning for the future you can do.
posted by kestralwing at 7:28 PM on August 5, 2016 [8 favorites]

Intriguing side note: where I live, not having a car is the norm. I'm surprised at how driving-centric some of these answers are!

Public transportation is not enough. Look for a city that supports alternate para-transit options because one fall, memory loss, or one operation recovery could mean you can't get to and from bus stops. Access and Dial-a-Ride are two local examples. (Uber has a bad reputation for how drivers deal with service animals and mobility devices, and taxis get expensive and also cannot always accommodate wheelchairs.)
posted by Room 641-A at 10:38 AM on August 6, 2016

I'm planning for my retirement and also my partner had a stroke 4 years ago. This is what I have done.
We live in snow country. So I had a covered walkway built so that we can walk from our back door to our carport without walking on snow and ice and I don't have to shovel snow. Also, the carport is essential. I never have to scrape windows.

You will learn that the number one health issue after about 60 is FALLING. I can't stress this enough. My partner thinks about falling all the time because he has so many challenges, a broken hip would really take him down mentally. He especially does not want to fall on hard surfaces. We are not only concerned about broken hips but also concussions. So we do NOT have ceramic tile anywhere. And I make everything as flat as possible we have vinyl flooring, no rugs, built a walkway. We are minimalists about furniture so we have lots of room everywhere. I can't let my dog have toys or bones in the house in case he leaves one somewhere that would trip us.

A bidet toilet was essential. Plus I had the plumber take the toilet out and put it on a platform (4 inches?). The platform makes a big difference especially for tall people. The bidet is useful for someone who had a stroke, pregnant people, people who have the flu, people going through chemotherapy. I couldn't afford a bidet toilet so I bought a bidet adapter toilet seat from Amazon. Works just fine.

I have to agree with someone upthread that my parents bought a two story home when in their 50s, they are eighty now and I swear that going up and down those stairs every day is why they are so healthy today. And there is a bathroom on each floor so if someone was too weak to go up and down the stairs you could always just live on the floor with the kitchen temporarily. So I like the idea of two story houses.

We have a stove where if a pan is empty or the pan is taken off the hotplate the stove shuts off. This is very Alzheimer's friendly.

One other thing is that we live in moose country - I have opened my door and come face to face with a moose. But what I did also applies to an urban environment where there could be stray vicious dogs. Which has also happened to me here - I once saw a Pitbull kill a small dog in front of my house. I feel like wild animals and vicious dogs pick on small dogs, children and the elderly and also because my partner had a stroke he can't really run from anything. So what I did was put a gate on my front porch and a dog fence around my backyard. This way we can open our front door and if there is a moose or dog or bear about to charge us we have time to close the door and lock it. This also helps with dealing with hooligans. I live in a very rural area but I have been threatened with violence once and had two different very suspicious people come up to my door. So, now if I open my front door and there is a hooligan out there they have to fiddle with the latch of my gate before they can get near me which gives me time to close and lock my door.

And the back fence is only 4 feet tall but it keeps out wild animals because it looks like a trap to them - to jump into my backyard. If I step outside my back door and I see a wild animal a moose, for example, may want to charge the fence, but I would still have enough time to go back inside and lock the door.

I would not live here without the front porch gate and the back yard fence. I would re-create it if I lived in the city.

We have a ramp into the back door from when my partner was in a wheel chair and that is one thing I would probably just install in any house I move to. It actually looks pretty nice. We had a friend build it out of nice wood. But my point is they would not release my partner from the hospital until there were certain things set up at home and one of the main ones was a wheel chair ramp. So now if anyone in my family is in a wheelchair - from a stroke, broken leg, pregnancy complications, hip surgery, my house is good to go and they don't have to spend an extra minute in the hospital, they can come here. My partner had to spend 3 excruciating extra days in the hospital while we made arrangements to get the ramp built.
posted by cda at 11:25 AM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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