This is the thirty-second in a series of articles intended to demystify retirement living options.
The previous two weeks’ columns have discussed Senior Move Management, a process that helps people make the transition from a house they may have lived in for many years to a smaller home, typically an apartment in a retirement community.
What if you plan to stay in your home for a while longer, but sort of wish that you were moving, just so that you could start over without the accumulated weight of a lifetime of possessions?
You can engage the same experts that help people move. Despite the name, Senior Move Managers such as Barbara Kult of In Your Space Consulting (www.inyourspaceaz.com) also offer decluttering and aging-in-place services.
Kult helps clients identify how they use each room in their home, what health conditions they are dealing with, and what’s important to them. She creates a floor plan showing details of each room.
In a key step early in the process, she uses an extensive safety checklist to identify any hazards that the individual or couple faces at home.
For example, if the client uses a cane, walker, or wheelchair, Kult may propose rearranging or replacing furniture so that the individual can safely maneuver around the house without catching any assistive devices on protruding furniture.
She may recommend eliminating furniture with sharp corners, or rickety chairs or tables that always seem to be on the verge of tipping over. If rugs pose a trip hazard, she will suggest either fastening them securely or removing them.
Chemicals and other hazardous substances that are expired or no longer needed can be sorted and properly disposed of. Examples include old medicines, paint, and cleaning products. Basements and garages often contain a bewildering array of leftover toxic materials.
Once Kult understands how clients use their homes and what safety hazards need to be addressed, she begins working with them to identify other changes that can allow them to age in place more comfortably and safely.
She can help them eliminate 25-75% of the belongings and papers that have accumulated over the years but which no longer serve a purpose, including clothing that they no longer use. “The reality is that the average person uses 20% of what they own; the other 80% is fluff and stuff,” Kult explained. She helps clients distinguish between cherished belongings and less important items.
Another key step is to make needed belongings easier to access. Simple modifications to closets can put needed items within reach, and custom-designed rollout shelves in kitchens and bathrooms allow belongings in the back to be seen, reached, and used.
Targeted improvements can create what Kult terms “layered lighting.” Just as it is often helpful to dress in layers that can be added or subtracted as needed, a variety of lighting fixtures can be put in place that allow natural light to be augmented by different types and levels of lighting as needed.
Stairways may be made safer by adding inexpensive improvements such as handrails, friction strips, or reflective tape. Handrails might also be installed in bathrooms. In some cases, more extensive changes might be proposed, such as adding a riding chair lift to a stairway or replacing a bathtub with a walk-in or roll-in shower.
At times, a Senior Move Manager might recommend remote sensing technology. For example, sensors that detect motion might be placed in the kitchen. If the resident hasn’t entered the kitchen by noon, for instance, an alert might be sent to an adult child, who could call to ask if her parent is okay.
A variant on remote sensing is a waterproof pendant that the resident can wear, with a button to press if she falls or experiences another emergency and can’t get to a phone. In most cases, such devices work like OnStar for cars: a live operator responds and dispatches whatever emergency services are needed. Sophisticated devices can even detect when the wearer has fallen, and summon help automatically.
Through a combination of decluttering and aging-in-place services, older adults can get many of the benefits of moving to a safer and more streamlined home without ever actually leaving their house.