WHEELING – As of the 2020 census, over 22% of Wheeling’s population is 65 years of age or older – about 6,100 residents within city limits. With baby boomers (now aged 57-75) poised to flood this demographic in no time, demand for senior-friendly housing will be higher than ever, local experts already gearing up in the rush.
Their views range from keeping a current home livable to downsizing to entering a retirement community that ranges from independent living to long-term care.
REMAINING IN PLACE
There is already a safety net that can help seniors stay in their homes – even as their need for help grows, according to Paula Calvert, director of Family Service-Upper Ohio Valley. Part of a community network that also includes for-profit home care, Family Service provides meals on wheels, medical transportation, housekeeping, hygiene assistance and other services to enable that.
But, Calvert noted that there are other simple things many seniors can do on their own to make their current homes more user-friendly. She suggested a serious safety review – starting with small changes such as reduced clutter, loose rugs and contact with pets that could lead to a debilitating fall.
Calvert urges those aging in place to also plan ahead for a time when they may no longer be able to live independently – and to share those plans with their family members. She suggests that many options be on the table, adding that some older people she knows have done well in moving in with a brother who is going through the same challenges.
Whatever the plan, she encourages seniors to be realistic and to work for their own well ahead of real needs.
“When that moment comes and you are not ready for it,” she said of needing help or other accommodation, “it becomes an uncomfortable environment”.
Becky Padden of Huffner Contracting of Wheeling said seniors frequently approach this business in a desire to go as far as necessary to avoid such discomfort. They ask, “What can you go out and do now so that we can stay in our own house?” ”
Padden said bathrooms are a big deal, both in terms of fall prevention and independent access.
“A lot of people get to the point where they can’t lift their leg to get into the tub,” she said.
The entrepreneur has a variety of answers, she says. Sometimes grab bars or increasing the height of the toilet will do the trick. Other times, bathtubs are replaced by walk-in or even roll-in shower stalls.
“In bathrooms, you really need a 5-foot circle if you find yourself in a wheelchair – a lot of people end up turning a bedroom into a bathroom,” Padden said.
Elsewhere in the homes, Padden said some guests had doors enlarged to 36 inches to better accommodate walkers and wheelchairs, or they were installing a second railing on the stairs so there was a place to hang on each side.
A few customers are going even bigger, she said of a local trend towards building first-floor additions that include a bedroom, bathroom, and sometimes a laundry room moved from the basement.
“We have all these wonderful old houses. But, as you get older, they are not accessible, ”said Padden, noting that the company now recommends new construction customers to build with accessibility in mind, regardless of their age.
Missy Ashmore of Kennen & Kennen Realtors of Wheeling would love to see some more of this kind of new build.
She said the tiny, one-story, step-less, low-maintenance homes that a growing number of Wheeling area residents hope to find as they age just don’t exist in large numbers. This is true, she said, although potential buyers include people who want a minimum home in Wheeling but spend part of the year in a warmer climate and those who are willing to give up 300,000. $ to $ 400,000 for a more upscale home that will leave them aging in place.
The reality of the market, however, is an abundance of older multi-story homes, she said, noting that only 20 of the 430 Wheeling homes sold through Realtors in 2020 have been built in the past 20 years.
That, Ashmore said, means downsizing candidates need to plan their needs well in advance and prepare for a buyer’s market that looks a bit like musical chairs. “The wheel has an aging population. Many buyers are competing for the same types of homes, making the home search process longer than expected.
Ashmore noted that a number of older clients were simply selling – ditching a large house in favor of renting. And that’s where another element of the residential world of Wheeling comes in.
Donald Kirsch, administrator of the Welty Seniors Housing System, believes that there will be enough independent rental housing and assisted living and long-term care options in the city to handle unwanted baby boomers. no longer have the burden of owning and maintaining their own home.
That includes the baby boomers who are already there and then some, Kirsch said, adding that he had noticed a recent increase in the number of Wheeling natives returning to live their final years in their hometown. There have also been newcomers who are aware of the potential for senior housing in the city and have moved here for this reason, he said.
Noting that the Welty system – which offers a continuum of senior housing from apartments and townhouses to retirement home care – isn’t the only option in town, Kirsch said Wheeling is actually better. than many cities of similar size. He said there are rentals for different levels of income and physical abilities and in various neighborhoods.
And, unlike historic homes in the city, he noted that senior housing is generally accessible and more. Even in Welty’s self-catering apartments and townhouses, for example, he said there was a 24-hour monitored emergency call system, monthly housekeeping, and the regular presence of safety devices such as as grab bars in the bathroom and walk-in showers.
“They are all specially designed for the needs of the elderly,” Kirsch said. “We wanted to make sure that our residents could stay there as long as possible physically. ”