By Missy Sullivan
Denial can be a beautiful thing. And as baby boomers start to reach a certain age, they can get pretty darn skilled at it:
“Sure I can play competitive hoops with the 20-something guys at work.”
“If I leave that 401k statement unopened, then my portfolio isn’t sucking wind.”
“Make a will? That’s for old people.”
And then there’s the ever-popular “Hell no, I’ll never become frail.”
Never say never. As we’re discovering (for better or for worse), we’re a generation with a lot of big plans, that often doesn’t like planning—especially when it involves acknowledging age-related weakness or loss of ability. It’s an attitude borne out in a new survey about boomers’ long-term housing choices, conducted by insurance group The Hartford, in conjunction with the MIT Age Lab, called Boomers in Transition: Where Will They Live Next?
It’s not an easy question, especially in today’s restrictive housing market. That may help explain, at least in part, the key finding of the survey: We’re moving our mouths, but taking no action. Some 77 percent of the boomers polled said they’d talked about future housing plans with their spouse or partner—whether to stay or move, whether to upgrade or not. But blather it remained. Only 29 percent said they’ve actually come up with a strategy to move forward.
Nearly half of those surveyed say they want to stay in their current home and “age in place.” But inertia and familiarity can be dangerous. At some point, that carpeted stairwell, inadequate lighting and deep-sided bathtub will start to become safety hazards. And there are scores of ways homes can become confounding for folks with creaky knees, a touch of arthritis or weakening night vision. (Boomers, do you recognize yourself yet?) But of the 96 percent surveyed who said they were aware of ways to adapt their home for long-term comfort and accessibility—in industry parlance, it’s called “universal design”—only a quarter have made even simple changes such as replacing doorknobs with lever-style handles, eliminating room-to-room thresholds or adding cabinet drawers.
Of course, the marketplace is rising up to the task. Universal design consultants can now be called upon to assess your home’s needs and recommend upgrades. One helpful nonprofit resource: www.homemods.org, a service of the National Resource Center for Supportive Housing and Home Modifications of the University of Southern California.
We know how to baby-proof our living spaces. We’re learning how to make them greener. We should put as much care and energy into making them work for our aging bodies.