Most Americans want to stay in their own homes as they get older, and a number of features can make aging in place safer and more comfortable. The modifications to a home can range from minor, such as changing light switches, to major, such as building an ADU or in-law suite on the property to house a caregiver.
Planning for the Future
Obviously, the best time to think about aging in place is before you encounter barriers to staying in your home. That means planning ahead and thinking about the different issues involved in living safely, comfortably, and independently in your home and your community.
What Are Universal Design Features?
Adapting your home to your future needs can happen now. In fact, the incorporation of universal design features is becoming more common in new-home construction and whole-house remodeling. These features, such as flush thresholds, lever door handles, and non-slip bathroom surfaces, accommodate people with limited mobility but also make living in a home easier for anyone. Here are some ways you could make your house more livable as you get older.
- Remodel your home to ensure the master bedroom is on the main floor, as are the kitchen, dining area, and bathroom.
- Modify entryways to make them transitionless: A seamless walk from the driveway to the front door and into the home, with no steps or raised thresholds, as well as flush thresholds between rooms inside the house, make movement easier for people using wheelchairs and walkers.
- Widen the front doorway and doorways between rooms in the house: 36 inches is ideal for wheelchair access.
- Widen hallways to 36 to 42 inches wide, to allow wheelchairs to maneuver and people to pass easily.
- Design rooms, or arrange furniture, so that there’s ample floor space to allow people in wheelchairs to turn and move.
- Add grab bars near toilets and showers, as well as in any other spot where stability is critical, such as steps and stairs. Grab bars that double as towel racks, shower shelves, and toilet paper holders fit into a room’s décor without being obvious.
- Install raised toilets or toilet seats to allow for easier transfer from a wheelchair.
- Also in the bathroom, consider a roll-in shower that has seating inside and places to keep soap and shampoo within easy reach. A walk-in tub also eases access. Water controls that are easy to adjust and anti-scald mixing devices also are available, and a handheld showerhead that a helper can use without getting wet is a good idea.
- For wheelchair users, design a bathroom sink with room underneath for the chair and the legs of the user.
- Especially in the bathroom but also throughout the house, install non-slip floors such as textured tile, and remove throw rugs. Floors without carpeting or with commercial, wheelchair-friendly carpet make rolling easier.
- Replace standard light switches with rocker switches, which are easier for everyone to operate, not just people with disabilities. Lever door handles also help people with reduced hand strength or dexterity.
- In the bathroom and kitchen, install single-handle levers or touchless faucets.
- Design the kitchen so that it has counters at different levels to accommodate wheelchair users, people who have trouble bending, and anyone else. Also create a kitchen sink setup that allows someone in a wheelchair to use it easily.
- In the kitchen, bedroom, and throughout the house, arrange storage that’s accessible. Pull-out shelves can help.
- Good lighting becomes more important with age; install adequate lights throughout the home and outside to help with tasks and safety.
These modifications could be incorporated into the design of a home remodel and should be discussed with your design-builder, but many also can be accomplished individually as you work to make your house safer and more comfortable for your later years.