By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.
“Home is heaven for beginners.” – Charles Henry Parkhurst
A few years ago, my brother and I were playing a game with our kids that was like Mad Libs – you take a common phrase and remove some key words. You then ask the other team for “a noun” or “an adjective” and the resulting phrase is usually surprisingly funny. The adult team was given the phrase, “Home is where you hang your hat.” We took out “hang” and “hat” and asked for a verb and a noun. They kids responded, “Home is where you organize your emptiness.”
All of the adults around the table winced at the existential angst this evoked, but we realized there was some truth in it. I think of that goofiness when I think about what a home means to me. It is more than just the four walls that surround us. It also represents where you are at your most bare, your most vulnerable, and you can be broken amongst people who will hold you gently until you are ready to face the world. It seems, then, that home should also be the safest for us physically.
That is not always the case, and so the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has been focusing on Healthy Homes – ways to improve the health outcomes of people in housing by improving the building in which they live.
This has been a long year – the year we retreated into our homes. So many people started looking around their houses and realized how much work it needed. There is a housing and renovation boom, the cost of lumber is off the charts. What does that mean for the elderly who are wondering if their home will keep them safe if they live another decade, maybe two?
Elders and their loved ones should start with the following questions
- Is your home in a safe neighborhood?
- Do you have what you need (stores, doctors, social opportunities) relatively nearby?
- Is your building envelope (roof, walls, windows) moisture free and draft free?
- Are there parts of your home that might cause accidents (weak or steep stairs, loose rugs, poor drainage, landscaping problems, cords that cross the floor)?
- Are there seasonal issues like snow removal that give you pause?
- Are there known toxins (mold, lead paint, asbestos) in your home?
- Do you have the amenities you need to age successfully?
- Can you continue to keep the home and the yard up during the next 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?
If you feel your home could be safer, consider looking into one of the resources below to improve the health of your home.
- MassHousing – home improvement, septic system repair, and lead paint removal loans
- Rebuilding Together, Inc. – assists low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners with home repairs
- Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission – home modification loan program for persons with disabilities
- Veterans Affairs Regional Loan Center – loans and grants to qualifying veterans to adapt existing dwelling to meet specific needs
- USDA Rural Development Office – home improvement loans and grants to low-income homeowners in rural areas
- Department of Public Health – lead poisoning prevention program
And most importantly, if you think you should move, now or even in 20 years, make a plan. Many places have waiting lists and you want to set yourself up in advance to have as many options as possible. Plan now and apply well beforehand so that when you are ready, there is a new home waiting for you. Maybe then, you can hang your hat safely.