A plan to age 'in a home of our own'

Over the last few months, my husband and I have hosted a series of dinner parties in our home in Jacksonville. We call them "dp-fgs" or dinner party/focus groups.

We invite a group of six to eight people who are 50-plus and ask them provocative questions about "aging-friendly innovation." Most of our guests do not know one another (in some cases they do not even know us), so the evenings have been full of surprises and packed with intriguing conversation.

We feed these folks a delicious meal and facilitate a discussion framed by the question, "What do you consider the ideal living situation during the later decades of your life?"

Some reports suggest that as many as 90 percent of people want to "age in place" in their own homes. Many of our dinner guests report that's their preference but acknowledge their home is increasingly challenging because of unanticipated mobility issues, a fear of falling or the lack of a fully accessible bathroom. (Those are just a few reasons — that list is long.)

We started having these dinner parties when we realized our home would become highly unfriendly if one of us breaks a hip or is bed-bound for any long period of time. So, big leap for us — especially because we love our current home — we are going to plan and build a "smart" house that offers some of the innovations and universal design considerations that define age-friendly living. Our research suggests that building is usually less expensive than trying to make renovations to an existing home.

RVCOG Senior and Disability Services, in concert with Oregon AARP, is leading the way in age-friendly "lifelong housing certification," and we are starting with their "enhanced accessibility" list. Check it out at http://tinyurl.com/aemc5h3

We are not building our "smart/age-friendly" home tomorrow or even next year — at this point we are still gathering the information and packaging the ideas.

For instance, are you aware many homes have lights at knee level embedded in the walls to prevent falls and fractures? It creates a feeling of security, as well as a lovely ambiance.

Some houses have a built-in bathroom scale that automatically reports a notable one-day jump in weight gain to your health provider and also provides a rolling record of blood pressure and bone density.

There are robotic televisions with channels that switch to your daughter in Portland or a favorite friend-at-distance and allow you to eat your evening meal with someone who lives far away.

We have modified the phrase "aging in our own home" to "aging in a home of our own." It's a subtle but potent distinction. Let me know your thoughts. Can't promise you a dinner-party invitation — but you never know.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or Sharon@hmj.com

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