Updated Nov 2, 2022
Getting older is the perfect time to sit back and relish in the comforts of home. However, for many elderly folks, it becomes a time to decide where they’ll spend the next stages of life.
Thanks to the aging in place movement, it doesn’t have to.
Senior citizens and caregivers nationwide are normalizing the idea of staying at home through the physical and mental changes that come with age. They make this possible by adjusting their living spaces to fulfill health care and comfort needs.
This article will discuss various modifications that can help you, or a loved one age in the comfort and privacy of your own home.
Aging in place is someone’s ability to remain in their home throughout the later stages of life.
The movement began in Boston in 2001 when a group of older Americans formed an elder village — a local network of social events and resources for seniors. The movement has since grown, with over 200 established villages in the U.S. and countless more in the works.
Some individuals may opt to move in with a family member or relocate to an assisted living facility. Anyone wishing to age in place intentionally decides to modify their existing home to fit their evolving needs.
This choice enables older adults to maintain independence and comfort in their familiar environments.
Home modifications for aging in place often start with universal design concepts.
Universal design is the concept of creating a space with consideration of all ability levels, health statuses, and accessibility needs. It means building a place where senior citizens, non-disabled folks, and people with disabilities can all function with ease.
Universal design is crucial for aging in place because it prepares a home for varying needs that could arise over the years. Even if someone is currently healthy, they may need home modifications and assistance later.
By preparing a home for different needs, homeowners increase their chances of transitioning through life stages in their familiar environments.
According to a 2021 AARP report, 75% of older Americans want to live in their current homes and neighborhoods as long as possible.
Most of these adults prefer to stay in their own homes with help from family members or a professional caregiver instead of relocating to an assisted living facility.
Assisted living facilities are expensive, with nursing home costs averaging over $100,000 per year. So, aging in place may not just be preferred by seniors but also a more cost-effective option in the long run.
The best way to successfully age in place is to modify a home for the needs that arise with old age. The following sections will go over these different needs and how you can remodel a home to meet them.
Before jumping into the different home improvements for aging in place, you should understand the common health needs each modification aims to meet.
Home care modifications can:
Mobility is someone’s ability to move easily and independently.
Mobility decreases with age, and some people may develop difficulty walking or maintaining their balance. Diseases like arthritis affect mobility by making certain movements like stepping and grasping objects difficult.
Many people face increased mobility issues after hospitalization. They may struggle to perform daily activities like eating, dressing, or bathing following inpatient treatment.
Luckily, minor home improvements and tools can improve someone’s ability to get around their home.
Mobility modifications start with the front door.
Some older people struggle to grasp and turn traditional door knobs, making it difficult to enter their homes and travel between rooms. Replacing door knobs with lever door handles improves the ease of use for those with low strength or grip issues.
The bathroom is where homeowners bathe, dress, and care for themselves in privacy. Unfortunately, many aging folks struggle to take care of these needs independently. Bathroom modifications can vastly improve the functionality and accessibility of an aging in place home remodel. You can replace tub and shower combos with a walk-in tub and walk-in shower. You can also install a combination of the two to save space.
Stepping over the rim of a tub may be difficult and dangerous for those with diminishing mobility. They risk tripping on the way in and out of the tub. Walk-in models have a door that opens, allowing users to walk into the tub or shower without stepping over a wall.
Daily activities like using the restroom can become challenging for those with joint pain and muscle weakness. Ease this difficulty by installing a raised toilet seat. A taller toilet allows folks with lowered mobility to sit down and stand up from the toilet with less effort.
For any modification that improves sitting and standing, remember to install handrails nearby for balance support and a lower fall risk. We suggest installing grab bars or rails near couches, chairs, beds, etc.
Lastly, outfit the home’s sinks with touchless faucets and hands-free soap dispensers. These devices use motion sensor technology to turn on when a hand is placed underneath. They remove the need for faucet handles or soap pumps, enabling those with grip issues to wash their hands easily.
Wheelchair accessibility is a key component of universal design and aging in place home renovations.
According to a 2021 report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 11.2 million Americans over 65 have disabilities that limit their ability to leave home. Of those respondents, over 40% use a mobility device like a walker, wheelchair, or motorized scooter.
The percentage of people reporting such disabilities nearly triples between the ages of 50 and 80. With these statistics in mind, you get a better understanding of the importance of accessibility for aging in place.
We’ll provide you with some home modifications to increase a home’s functionality for someone using a mobility aid device.
Start by expanding doorways to at least 30 inches across for mobility devices to fit through. Then, improve the accessibility of entryways by replacing stairs with ramps. Ramps enable people with mobility devices like wheelchairs and walkers to enter an elevated area.
Stairs can also be hazardous for those traveling on foot. Folks with weak muscles or a shuffling gait may struggle to climb a staircase. In this instance, ramps reduce the risk of tripping and improve an entryway’s usability.
You should outfit a multilevel home with a stairlift or platform lift to keep all dwelling areas accessible.
A stairlift is a device that pulls a chair up a mechanical strip to transport a person between the levels of a home. A platform lift has the same design, except it includes a ramp to hold a scooter or wheelchair.
Remodel your bathroom to be mobility device-friendly by expanding the space enough for a wheelchair or walker to move freely around the space.
Add a shower chair to enable you or your loved one to sit down while bathing or to shift from the wheelchair to the seat. Remember to add railings and grab bars near these devices to provide extra support.
Next, consider the parts of the home that may be unreachable for someone in a seated mobility device. Modify these areas for full accessibility.
Lower countertops and light switches make seating and lighting convenient for a person in a wheelchair. Consider installing lowered faucets in bathrooms and kitchen areas for easy reaching.
Fall prevention is crucial for aging in place.
What may seem like a harmless fall can seriously injure an elderly homeowner. In fact, people 70 and older are three times more likely to die from a fall than those under 70.
Luckily, you can make many simple home modifications to prevent yourself or a loved one from a dangerous fall.
Fall prevention can be as easy as moving furniture around to create clear pathways or removing rugs from heavy foot traffic areas.
You can also install cordless electronic devices to remove the risk of tripping over wires.
Reduce the risk of slipping on wet surfaces by putting down slip-resistant mats. Place them in showers, tubs, kitchens, and outdoor deck areas.
Adequate lighting is another critical component of fall prevention. Ensure all pathways have ample, accessible lighting that prevents the homeowner from ever walking in the dark.
A great way to ensure safety is to install motion sensor light switches that turn on when someone walks by. These lights will illuminate an area even if you forget to turn them on.
Install timed or light-sensing night lights that turn on in the dark. These keep you safer during nighttime visits to the restroom.
Lastly, consider replacing hardwood flooring with soft carpet. One of the main dangers of senior falls is broken bones. Someone is less likely to suffer a severe injury if they fall onto a cushioned surface.
Read the AgingInPlace.org’s Elderly Fall Prevention Guide for more simple ways to improve home safety.
Smart home technology may be a solution for some individuals seeking to age in place.
Smart home devices assist homeowners by monitoring and managing home systems like appliances, lighting, temperature, and security. These systems can prove useful for aging homeowners who need help controlling utilities and electronics.
Most of the time, the entire smart home system is connected to and controlled by the user’s smartphone.
Apart from turning on lights and heating with the touch of a button, smart home devices can improve safety and independence.
Medical alert systems are one example of this.
There are countless alert system models and brands on the market, each boasting various features and styles.
Two that are especially useful for those aging in place are fall detection sensors and environmental monitoring systems.
Fall detection sensors typically come in the form of wearable devices that alert caregivers or first responders when a fall occurs. The devices do this through gyroscope and accelerometer technology.
Environmental monitors detect home emergencies like gas leaks and fires and automatically send an alert for help.
Below we’ve listed some resources that make aging in place more accessible for homeowners of different needs.
Some of these resources provide financial assistance programs for low-income seniors needing home modifications. Others are nonprofit organizations that provide support, training, and tips for aging in place.
|Rebuilding Together – Safe at Home||Access resources for no-cost home modification installation and aging in place support.|
|National Resource Center on Home Modifications||Learn more about house modifications and fall prevention methods.|
|Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program||Apply for financial assistance for energy and utility bills.|
|U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services||Access information on healthcare providers and coverage.|
|USAging||Explore the Area Agencies on Aging network and find resources for aging in place.|
|Eldercare Locator||Connect yourself or a loved one with certified caregivers, financial specialists, and housing resources.|
|CAPABLE||Connect with a team of occupational therapists, registered nurses, and caregivers to develop a home care plan.|
Aging in place is an ever-growing movement that allows older people to reclaim their independence while remaining in the comfort of their communities.
Even if you or a family member is still in good health, aging can bring unforeseen challenges that make even simple daily activities difficult. Prepare for these challenges by outfitting your home with universal design and accessibility in mind.
The functionality and safety of your home will age well, just as you do.
With home modifications and safety measures in place, you and your loved ones can thrive through every stage of life.
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