Room To Retire

Boomers are leading the trend to stay at home
Christy Scannell SPECIAL TO THE UT
Rhoda Hamburger, 80, lives comfortably with her dog Cuddles in a little cottage designed with aging-in-place features. - John Gastaldo

First it was the call from an older widow in Santee. She had nixed moving to an assisted-living facility in favor of adding a second level to her home that would create a spacious environment for her adult granddaughter's family of four - and live-in caregivers for her. And then even more requests began rolling into Jackson Design and Remodeling from adult children determined to help their aging parents stay in their own homes. Plus middle-agers were asking for ideas on what they should be doing to prepare for future retirement at their residences.

CEO Todd Jackson realized he was witnessing a new way of thinking about his industry.

"We started noticing the trend in about 2006," he said. "So we started looking at how we're building projects in a more holistic approach that's not just about now, but the long-term, too."

That trend, often referred to as "aging in place," is rapidly altering not only the remodeling business but architecture and interior design, too. And as the baby boomer generation continues into its retirement years, the desire to adapt existing homes for older adults is only expected to grow.

"It's very disruptive for someone to have to leave the home they've lived in and move to a smaller place where they have to give up half the possessions they've acquired and have to adapt to other people's schedules and rules," said Denise Nelesen, a licensed clinical social worker and communications manager for Aging and Independence Services at the County of San Diego. "Staying in their home empowers them to keep doing what they enjoy doing."

But unless that home is properly adapted, choosing to stay there can be risky. The Centers for Disease Control says falling is the leading cause of injury death among those over 65, and one in three adults over 65 falls each year.

"It's really important to be preventative in terms of looking at a space for safety as well as ease of use," said Anne Kellett, owner of San Diego interior design firm A Kinder Space. "bathrooms are downright dangerous, for example - water and polished marble together are a recipe for disaster."

But homeowners don't need to sacrifice style for those changes. Kellett said she incorporates age-friendly finishes and accessories that retain the home's warmth while providing the assistance an older person might need.

"It's not about a medical look - it can be beautiful as well as functional," she said, "such as layers of lighting - not just the bright lights we need sometimes, but soft lighting, too."

Another consideration is the freedom to maneuver a wheelchair or walker indoors. Jackson's remodel checklist now includes wider hallways, bigger doors and roll-in showers.

"What's going to prevent people from staying in their home? Access," Jackson said. "If they can get around in their home, they don't have to move away."

For some retirees, though, the family home is simply too large to maintain through their golden years. Local architect Kevin de Freitas had those residents in mind when he designed the Marina District's Rowhomes on F, a 17-unit complex that was recently featured in Andrew Nuver's book "Unassisted Living: Ageless Homes for Later Life." Although his row homes incorporate multiple levels, they have ample space for an elevator. In exchange, they offer autonomy.

"If someone is unable to drive, they could easily live there without a car and have access to every service they need in just a few blocks," he said. "The way many people want to spend their retirement is not bound to their houses-they don't want a 4,000-square-foot house with a big yard."

But for those who do, it's possible to make living at home longer a reality.

"If it's just an issue of mobility or frailty, then how exciting that we have all these things that can help us make life easier at home," Nelesen said. "It is human nature to want to feel independent yet secure, and there is no reason you can't maintain that as you get older."

Jackson Design and Remodeling