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September is World Alzheimer’s Month — a chance for people to reflect on this increasingly prevalent health challenge, channel energy and investment toward solutions, and work to reconsider the narratives (and eliminate enduring stigmas) associated with the disease.

It’s also a good time to spread awareness about the connection between home performance and aging-in-place (AIP), which today represents the preferred living arrangement for around 80% of older Americans, according to a recent survey by the AARP. In fact, that’s one of several reasons why calling greater attention to this connection has become an urgent need:

Briefly summarizing the above: AIP is what most people want, it’s what they’re doing already, and it could have huge health benefits, too — yet all too many of them aren’t sufficiently prepared for it. To honor World Alzheimer’s Month would be to change that, so here are three key home performance considerations that can help caregivers and their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease better plan and prepare for AIP.

Start with the Low-Hanging Fruit

The numbers around Alzheimer’s Disease may seem overwhelming at first: Roughly one in nine people age 65 and older currently has Alzheimer's Disease, for example, and around 54 million Americans are caring for older relatives at the moment. With that in mind, it’s probably best to keep things simple if you’re just getting started — namely, by tackling the low-hanging fruit, or home modifications you can make with minimal effort and little-to-no financial outlay.

A few easy ones for caregivers to consider right off the bat:

  • Focus on ease of access: Any items that are frequently used should have clearly defined “homes” within the household to enhance accessibility and facilitate use. Once used, everything goes back to where it was. And that goes for everything — medications, shoes, TV remotes, you name it.

  • Label everything: Labeling, likewise, helps a lot. But don’t just label the items themselves — also label the cupboards, closets, drawers, and so forth in which they’re contained.

  • Dial in on doorway dangers: Caregivers should make a habit of locking any doors that could point the way to harm for senior loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease. Think: a door that opens onto the basement stairs, for example.

  • Position photos strategically: Photos of family members — or photos that trigger positive emotions and memories — hung at critical junctures in the house can serve as valuable anchoring points for loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease, connecting their physical navigation to positive emotions and identity-stabilizing recall.

Small as these measures may seem at first, they can make a big difference on a daily basis, especially if you’re among the roughly one in four caregivers who have responsibilities stretching in both directions — meaning you’re caring for an aging loved one and one or more family members under the age of 18, too. But either way, the above ideas are a good place to start when plotting out AIP for loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Related Post: How to Start Getting Your Home Ready for Aging in Place

Transition to Smart Home Tech

After the above practical moves, transitioning to smart home tech should feel like an incremental measure. Just bear in mind that you may have to do some independent research, as there are a wealth of different products to choose from. But one pro tip, in that department, is to check to see if you can pilot the tech as part of a free trial and to exercise that option whenever it’s on the table.

Those details aside, the smart home tech market is rapidly evolving, but for now, its biggest benefits for caregivers whose loved ones have Alzheimer’s Disease are effectively twofold: assisting with home management and enhancing supervision.

A few examples of the former:

  • Remote control and monitoring of appliances: What if the kitchen stove wasn’t turned off all the way after your loved one last used it? Now, you can be made aware of the issue, and “step in” to address it, even if you aren’t at home.

  • Remote visibility into comfort and safety: Keeping tabs from afar on things like carbon monoxide levels and indoor air quality (IAQ), or even simply ensuring the temperature is comfortable, can provide caregivers with greater peace of mind.

  • Remote package-delivery management: Motion-sensitive doorbell cameras, most of which come with easy-to-use smartphone apps, may give your loved one a greater sense of autonomy — they have the option to, say, sign for and receive packages, but you can also assist on an as-needed basis, regardless of whether or not you’re physically present.

And a few examples of the latter:

  • Automated reminders and instructions: Voice-activated home assistants can be helpful for caregivers on a daily basis in several respects — these devices can serve as a surrogate capable of answering the occasionally repetitive question, for example, or offer daily mealtime reminders. And note that those reminders could include, say, step-by-step instructions for food preparation, too.

  • Early alerts about behavioral changes: When was the last time your loved one opened the refrigerator? How long are they spending in the bathroom each morning, and has that changed significantly in the past few months? Questions like these can point to potentially serious health issues, and when they do, early detection is important. Smart appliances with remote monitoring capabilities, together with advanced sensors, can equip caregivers with answers, enabling proactive interventions when necessary.

Simple, relatively non-invasive interventions like these are all made possible by smart home tech and may be a boon for caregivers. However, given the duration of care usually associated with Alzheimer’s Disease — the majority of Alzheimer’s caregivers say they expect to continue having care-giving responsibilities for the next five years, for example — it might make sense to go in for more enduring, value-adding solutions, even if doing so requires a modest front-end financial commitment.

Related Post: Navigating the Smart Home Device Landscape

See Enduring Value With Home Performance Improvements

What home performance improvements most meaningfully contribute to successful AIP experiences for those with Alzheimer’s Disease? Start with the following three, arranged from lowest to highest in terms of cost and complexity.

1. Make the Wholesale, Whole-House Switch to LEDs

Changing lightbulbs can be challenging for older Americans, especially those with Alzheimer’s, so why risk it? Smart LED lightbulbs are 75% more efficient than their incandescent antecedents, and they’ll last practically forever — often in the ballpark of 20 years. Smart LEDs are also increasingly affordable, with models now retailing for $15 or less. Add to that dimming capabilities and you stand to save a further 40% in light-related energy usage.

But savings aside, there’s another reason to make this low-cost investment. That is, getting indoor light levels just right helps reduce the likelihood that people with Alzheimer’s will perceive shadows or objects as things they are not — a relatively common but understandably frightening experience, and one that can be a source of stress and anxiety.

Related Post: How Lighting Impacts Your Home's Energy Efficiency

2. Install AIP Bathroom Basics (at Minimum!)

Regardless of whether your loved one has Alzheimer’s or not, bathroom basics, such as raised toilet seats, non-slip mats, and grab bars are essential ingredients for successful AIP experiences. After all, bathrooms are where the majority of slips, falls, and similar accidents occur for seniors, and nearly one-third of them result in ER visits. Yet roughly 90% of American homes right now don’t feature these and other AIP basics.

While you’re at it, you might consider making simple adjustments to improve the consistency of flooring throughout your home and installing lever-style door knobs everywhere, too. These are likewise elementary, but essential, moves when it comes to AIP.

3. Invest in Air Sealing — It’s Worth It

Air sealing can be a somewhat complicated topic, but its selling point isn’t. Namely, air sealing your home is the single most cost-effective home improvement you can implement from the standpoint of comfort and energy savings — both of which are crucial factors in shaping the AIP experience for seniors (also note the importance of the latter for those on fixed budgets). What’s more, undertaking this kind of home improvement project right now comes with additional financial incentives thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022.

Related Post: Second Step to a High-Performing Home: Air Sealing

In closing, two quick addenda for caregivers to keep in mind.

One, some of the above suggestions can be filed under the header of so-called “universal design” principles, which is a concept you might want to learn more about. In simplest terms, think of these principles as tantamount to best practices that are directly relevant to all things AIP — and they could serve as a handy reference point for AIP home performance improvement projects later on.

Two, if you think you’re going to need more specialized or hands-on guidance, you always have the option of working with a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS). These professionals are trained to provide customized recommendations on topics related to AIP safety and accessibility for your home.

Next Steps for AIP Prep

In general, people tend to underestimate the likelihood that they’ll require assistance in the future, according to studies, in the same way that they’re skeptical about the notion that they can shape or influence their own experience of aging. Behind the latter belief, it would seem, is an assumption that something else — fate, luck, genetics — ultimately descends to determine what’s next.

Of course, that’s actually not the case, as we’ve touched on in the above, but greater engagement, increased awareness, and more open conversations about the connection between AIP and home performance are very clearly the order of the day. At the same time, attention should be paid to the ways in which Alzeimer’s Disease can modify the equation for older Americans and caregivers alike. 

For now, if you’re ready to start mapping out your own AIP journey or that of a loved one, download Green Door, the easy-to-use and free app from Pearl Certification. It’ll help you create Pearl Home Investment PlansTM, including custom plans you can build to suit your loved ones’ changing needs, find rebates and cost-saving opportunities, connect with vetted local contractors, plus a whole lot more.

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