AGING IN STYLE | Should I stay or should I go?

Seniors and their families often grapple with the question about whether seniors should stay in their current homes by making renovations and adaptations for “aging in place,” relocate to another home, or move to a senior living community? These are tough questions with no boilerplate answers.

The first issue to address: Is it safe to stay in the current home? If it’s not safe, can adaptations or renovations be made that will make it safe? Will the costs be reasonable?

Before a costly remodel, it’s important to consider all the options. Sometimes, in a desire to maintain independence and “stay home,” seniors may refuse to check out the possibilities. But, once they start exploring, they are often surprised to discover a number of great choices.

If you’re a family member, it may be difficult for you to convince your senior to look at options outside of staying put. One suggestion that helps: Assure them you are not trying to persuade them to decide one way or the other but, rather, you’re helping them research options so they can make an informed decision.

Once you’ve jointly gathered information about alternative living situations, the next step should be to evaluate the current home. Figure out what’s possible in the way of adaptations that will make it safe and comfortable for aging in place. An interior designer who specializes in senior living can help a senior visualize the possibilities and determine what needs to be done.

What does a senior-living interior designer do?

Most interior designers offer an initial complimentary consultation during which they show you examples of their work, explain their process and, more importantly, learn about the senior homeowners’ challenges and goals. Based on that meeting, the designer will put together a written proposal along with a contract for your review.

Interior designers typically work inward from the home’s interior walls. They help guide decisions about the renovations. Sometimes, the required alterations will take walls down to the studs. Designers create construction documents including plans for demolition, electrical, plumbing, and finishes such as flooring, fixtures, tile, and countertops. If the scope requires, an interior designer will confer with an architect or structural engineer. Most interior designers stay onboard with a project throughout the construction phase. This ensures that the general contractor is following the design as created.

Interior designers also help with color selections and décor; this includes window treatments, paint, furniture and art. Designers have access to showrooms and design centers not open to the public. This enables designers to offer better pricing, larger selections, and special ordering of décor items not available at retail stores.

If structural changes are not required, home health and assistive device companies sell and install safety and mobility equipment such as grab bars, walk-in tubs, ramps, and specialty furniture.

First, explore the options for renovating your home with an interior designer who specializes in senior living. Second, look at modifying the home with home assistive apparatuses. These two steps will let seniors see what’s possible if they choose to stay in their current home.

Once you have estimates for the renovations and adaptations, you will be able to analyze the costs, work, time, and disruptions required to stay put. Compare these to the costs and convenience of moving to a senior living community or into another house in which it’s easier to age in place.

Safety and financial costs are not the only considerations. Social and emotional concerns are equally important. If a senior has an excellent, reliable support system in place, that should be a consideration in staying put. However, if they feel isolated and unsupported, moving may be a better option.

The correct decision, whether to stay or go, is ultimately up to the individual. Sometimes there are not defining factors that make the answer clear-cut. My recommendation: Take steps to gather the information necessary for an informed decision; know your options and the associated expenditures.

Doing this sooner rather than later, will provide peace of mind and facilitate future planning. This way, if something unexpected happens, you won’t need to ask yourself the question, “Should I stay, or should I go?” Because you’ve done your homework, you already know the answer.

Karen Pfeiffer Bush is a senior living specialist and owner of two Seattle-based companies, Studio 65 ( and Housewarming ( Contact Karen at (206) 719-1662 or email her at