You may be more than ready to retire, but what about your home? If you hope to age in your current home it makes sense to prepare for the challenges that aging is likely to bring. The environment in which you live will be an essential ingredient to your retirement safety and happiness. Here are a few areas you may want to consider as you prepare:
How's the temperature? As I get older I notice I am increasingly sensitive to temperature changes. It seems that the cold is a bit colder than it used to be. And on hot days the air conditioner comes on more frequently. As we spend more time inside, a little thing like too much cold or heat can quickly become annoying. Why suffer when today's modern conveniences can make your home much more inviting with options like heated floors and remote-controlled fireplaces that warm the room to a perfect temperature with the flick of a button. Attention to details like quality insulation, weather stripping and double-pane windows help you maintain the environment you want. You don't have to go the expensive route either. I am quite happy with a small electric heater that I use as needed to heat just me rather than the entire house. And during hot months, we distribute fans to all bedrooms to keep our cool. In retirement, why shouldn't you be warm when you want or cool as you wish?
Is your bedroom where it should be? Having your master bedroom upstairs may be fine when your knees are young. But as you move deeper into your retirement years, stairs are no longer your friend. Having to negotiate a flight at the end of the day when you may be tired or distracted can be risky. Our 88-year-old neighbor recently resituated his bedroom downstairs because negotiating the stairs became too much. Now he heads to bed without having to face an unnecessary challenge. It makes sense to save the upstairs suite for younger visitors.
As we age we tend to sleep less as well as less deeply. Noise can interrupt an already tenuous situation. Rather than put up with it, move your bedroom away from the most common source of noise, putting a few walls between you and the offender. A good night of sleep is a luxury we all appreciate. I am a light sleeper, but cope with nearby freeway noise with a sound machine next to our bed that plays a recording of waves breaking or a peaceful stream burbling. These peaceful sounds of nature nicely drown out annoying traffic.
Is your home secure? Security is important when it comes to peace of mind. A well-publicized alarm system with generously distributed signs and stickers lets potential criminals know ahead of time the area is protected. Additional security is available with systems that include a panic button which alerts the appropriate people when there is an emergency. It is a good investment to put deadbolts and strong locks on all doors with access to the outside. And make sure locks on windows click securely into place when closed.
No matter where you live, it is important to have a clear plan of action in case of emergencies. Depending on where your home is located you are subject to your own natural threats. As residents of the Bay Area we are most concerned with earthquakes. To prepare for the worst, we have our exit routes planed, a common contact out of state to phone and a week's worth of survival supplies stored in the shed out back. Don't forget to include important prescriptions. Fire is a concern no matter where you live, so plan accordingly. And I am a firm believer you can never have too many flashlights lying around, so long as you remember where they are when needed.
Are your handles and fixtures senior friendly? One of the best investments we made was replacing interior door knobs with handles. Now it is no problem to open a door even when our hands are full. We also upgraded our lights, so instead of struggling with a tiny switch we turn on fixtures by pressing a large flat switch. Similar improvements can be made when it comes to faucets with levers being easier to work than knobs. And bigger handles on cabinets just make life that much easier.
Are you near local points of interest? The physical location of your house is not something you can change. But it is helpful to be near the places you frequent, especially as you age. A short drive or walk to the grocery store, restaurants and nearby parks can make your location ideal. Public transportation can be a big help as well. And you cannot help but feel a bit safer if you live near a police or fire station as well as a hospital.
Is your kitchen efficiently designed? We all spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and this is an essential place to get things right. Cabinets should not be so high that they require stepping on a stool to reach. Drawers should not be so deep you have to bend down to see what is in the back recesses. Counter tops should not be too high or too low. Appliances that are set up based upon how you personally cook and navigate can be a big plus. Good lighting is a must as well as ventilation. Take advantage of improvements like lazy Susan shelving that maximizes otherwise wasted corners of drawers for easy access to everything stored there.
Can you see where you are going? Good lighting makes good sense. Even though you may have lived in a house for decades, it is easy to misjudge a distance in dim lighting and injure yourself. Make sure entrances are well illuminated for you as well as visitors. We opted for motion-detecting flood lights in strategic corners outside to light the way and help us find the keyhole after dark.
A well thought out home is not only a happier place, but also a safer place. Little improvements and added efficiencies can make a big difference. If you make the right changes now, you are investing in your future retirement happiness.
Dave Bernard is the author of "I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be". Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.
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