Quantifying the value of home modifications is a tricky business. It depends on who is doing the valuing. Governments look immediately to costs and benefits while home occupants look at their quality of life. Research findings of cost benefits and improved quality of life have done little to change either policy or home design. So we have yet another research article.
Jesse Abraham’s paper points to our ageing population and the lack of suitable housing for later life. It’s time for America’s existing housing to be made safe and accessible for ageing in place, says Abraham. The healthcare cost of falls is over $50 billion a year in the US. And that doesn’t count the quality of life costs to individuals and the inconvenience to families.
Abraham looks at the current evidence and takes an economic approach to the issues. That means there are a few equations and tables in his paper. His key argument is that there are cost efficiencies for society and for the government to provide subsidies for home modifications.
Abraham is curious that so few older people think about modifying their home in preparation for ageing. Usually it’s done as a reaction to a medical event and then done last minute. This is when the family is already coping with other healthcare needs.
Australian research by Carnemolla and Bridge underpins much of the work in this paper. Abraham cites three of their papers using their map of the evidence. He acknowledges that there are other quantifiable benefits such as improvements in physical and mental wellbeing.
A government incentive
The key point in the paper is that the cost of updating homes with accessibility features is a cost effective healthcare prevention. Given that older people are reluctant to take steps for their own wellbeing there is much to gain by providing a financial incentive. If governments were to pay half they would still be saving healthcare costs.
Abraham says that this is a difficult argument to prosecute because there will be costs for those who may never benefit. Perhaps if he had taken a universal design perspective he would see that benefits go beyond older people.
The title of the article is, The Cost Efficiency of Home Modifications to Reduce Healthcare Costs. If you skip the technical bits, this is a relatively easy read. It has a lot of useful information on this topic and good references.