As baby boomers begin to age, studies are showing that most older adults would rather stay in the homes and communities they already live in than move to independent or assisted living facilities.
The number of Minnesota adults 65 and older is projected to double between 2010 and 2030, according to the State Demographic Center. Next year, that age demographic is expected to climb above the school-aged population for the first time in history.
The center also predicts that the number of Minnesotans turning 65 this decade will be greater than the past four decades combined.
For the majority of those seniors, remaining in their homes when stairs and showers can become danger zones is not an option. Initiatives are slowly starting to pop up throughout the state and country to help seniors who aren’t ready to move, and most advocates are calling it “aging in place.”
Executive Director for Minnesota Seniors Doug Solem said the organization has a resource for older adults called Aging in Place, which is a one-stop shop for older adults who need help organizing, cleaning, or fixing a broken pipe, enabling them to continue being homeowners without the burden of maintenance. But it also offers resources for seniors who are at the breaking point between moving to an assisted care facility or making their home more accessible. For those seniors, Aging in Place finds resources and companies that can build elevators, wheelchair ramps, grab bars for the shower and more.
“As we get older, we have different needs, especially if we want to stay in our homes,” Solem said. “A lot of home builders don’t take that into consideration.”
Will Phillips, the Minnesota director for Association of American Retired Persons, said he likes to call the practice “aging in community.”
“Our survey data has shown that (a senior’s) current community is where they’d prefer to remain for as long as they can,” Phillips said. “Nobody wants to go to an assisted home or nursing facility if they don’t (have) to. The vast majority want to remain in their homes, and if not, their community.”
This involves raising awareness and affordability for accessible housing in neighborhoods not specified for seniors, Phillips said, since most seniors prefer to live in neighborhoods with people of all ages.
But creating accessible homes for seniors doesn’t come without a cost. Like most housing initiatives in Minnesota, there are financial barriers involved — a challenge not exclusive to older adults. The median home value in Scott County is $272,000, and in Hennepin County, the median home value is $245,000. In each county, more than 10% of residents are age 65 or older.
More housing developments are being proposed to accommodate for the influx of seniors who need to move elsewhere, but most of them are luxury housing, or at the very least, not affordable. The Savage Planning Commission reviewed plans in March for two senior living developments: a specialized memory-care facility in central Savage and a luxury townhouse community on Hanrehan Lake, citing an uptick in senior housing needs. The Shakopee City Council approved a conditional permit for a 36-unit assisted living and memory care building on 1.4 acres in Southbridge.
A townhome in Hanrehan Shores would start at $700,000. The average annual cost of living in an assisted living home is $43,000 per year, according to Retirement Living, and living in a nursing home costs an average of $82,000 per year.
Jill Mazullo, a spokesperson for Minnesota Housing, said whenever possible, it’s much more affordable for seniors to stay in their current homes. Minnesota Housing offers income-qualified rehabilitation loans for homeowners of any age to perform maintenance on their homes. Mazullo said construction to make a home more accessible for a senior would qualify for that loan, if the resident met the income requirement.
Phillips and Solem said that while there’s nothing wrong with senior-designated housing, it’s important to consider ways to keep seniors in their own homes, in which they’ve grown deep roots.
“I think we need to think about housing for older adults in the same way as housing for everybody else,” Phillips said. “We know that older adults live in the same neighborhoods as people with kids.”
This means thinking about how housing meets the needs of someone who may be older but has the same challenges of affordability or accessibility as a younger person has, Phillips said.
And the barrier might not be just as hard to grasp as it seems.
“By staying at home, seniors can take advantage of Medicare coverage to help pay for in-home help on a part-time basis,” an article in Retired Living said, “provided it is ordered by a doctor and you are homebound according to Medicare definitions. Even without Medicare help, in-home care is usually cheaper than assisted living or nursing homes with health aide services averaging $20.50 an hour.”
Residents who are interested in making their current homes more accessible when they become less mobile can visit mnseniorsonline.com for free access to resources that will tell them which direction to take. Solem said people who envision themselves aging in place, it’s always better to make their house accessible early on.
“Unfortunately, most people wait until accessibility is absolutely needed,” Solem said.