Your home is a place of comfort and familiarity. In fact, 90% of people age 50 or older prefer to age in place rather than plan for nursing home care or move to established retirement communities. Additionally, many households look to provide for elderly family members’ needs as they become primary caregivers for parents and grandparents.
However, the plan to age in place requires home modifications to keep you safe and independent. Consider implementing the following home upgrades to comfortably age in place.
1. Clear Excess Items
As you get older, your mobility starts to decline. Whether you’re simply moving furniture or planning extensive renovations of your floorplan, the goal now is to create clear pathways for movement. The more open space you have, the more freely you can walk around or navigate with mobility aids.
Additionally, your eyesight weakens with age, making it harder to notice smaller items. To prevent bumping into objects, declutter each room. Start with the ones you spend the most time in, like the living room — and don’t worry, you can start making decluttering a lifelong habit so this becomes easier down the road.
2. Create a No-Step Entry
For older adults, maneuvering stairs can be more challenging. One of the reasons is that, as we age, we lose some flexibility and balance. This can create risks if the front entryway to your home requires navigating steps, which can also become slippery with rain or snow.
Therefore, creating a level entryway is key. You want it covered to protect yourself from the elements. Plus, the level ground ensures you have a proper drainage system for rainfall. Many homeowners opt to turn their entryway into a ramp.
3. Add an Electric Stair Lift
Falls are a leading cause of injury in elderly people. A stair-lift helps keep you safe and provides convenience if your mobility becomes limited. Plus, it can give you a greater sense of independence if you don’t rely on other people to help you navigate stairs.
Not every elderly adult will need a stairlift, so this doesn’t have to be an addition you add immediately. But it’s good to consider the cost of home mobility aids in your plans so you’re financially prepared for the possibility of more expensive additions.
4. Make Your Doors Wider
Navigating a walker or wheelchair through a smaller frame is tricky. So, you want to have a wide enough door for easy access. You should have at least 32 inches of clearance space. While you do this, you will likely need to work with a contractor to figure out the best plan for moving plumbing and electricity.
In addition to enlarging your doors, it might be a smart idea to install pocket entryways instead of traditional doors. These open on a gliding track, so the door is out of the way once you pass through. While you’re at it, you can make a smaller change and add lever-style door knobs for an easier grip.
5. Upgrade to Your Kitchen
You use your kitchen daily for cooking, eating meals and/or entertaining. As you get older, your love for the kitchen may remain the same, but the layout may need to change. Fortunately, there are many options for making sure your kitchen is safe and accessible for a lifetime of use.
For example, put important appliances — like the microwave — on lower cabinets to reduce the risk of reaching upward with heavy dishes and hot food. Also, lower your sink or counter height, especially if you have a wheelchair. Remodeling your kitchen cabinets is a bigger renovation, but it can do wonders for accessibility in the years to come.
Having open shelves makes it easier to reach items without bending. Another idea is to use a lazy susan or roll-out shelves for quick access. Have plenty of space between furniture and buy fixtures with rounded edges.
6. Update Your Bathroom
Moving in and out of showers and tubs is harder for older people who have mobility concerns. Consider upgrading to a walk-in shower to mitigate the risk of slips and falls.
Of course, there are alternatives to such extensive remodeling. A less expensive option is installing grab bars inside the shower or tub. Another idea is placing a shower bench within the stall so you can rest your muscles. Together, these relatively simple additions can make bathing easier and more restful.
Along with your shower, make updates to your toilet. Install a raised one, so you don’t have to squat as far down as you may with a standard toilet.
7. Swap Your Flooring
If your carpeting is older, consider updating it. Why? Worn-down and pilling rugs create tripping hazards. This is especially true if you move with a cane, walker or other mobility aid.
You want a floor that is easier to walk on that old carpet, such as laminate, vinyl, or hardwood. If you are more eco-conscious, cork is a soft option that is easier to clean. You also want to install non-skid flooring in your bathroom and kitchen, so those new smooth surfaces don’t create hazards of their own.
8. Install a Medical Alert System
Are your family members concerned about your plan to age in place? This is a decision you should make in tandem with your loved ones, yourself and your trusted medical professionals. However, an alert system can make a world of difference for everyone’s peace of mind.
Often, the elderly may have trouble reaching a phone in the case of an emergency. Medical alert systems provide quick responses and monitor at-risk individuals. These systems are available in smartphone apps or wearable devices, like bracelets.
Most systems have a two-way speaker for easy communication with emergency personnel. Along with safety, these devices allow family members a break from around-the-clock care.
9. Have Essential Rooms on the First Floor
Since stairs provide a challenge for the elderly, why not make navigation even easier by rethinking how you live in your home? Consider moving essential areas to the first floor.
This may include spaces such as your master bedroom, a bathroom, or your home office. Make sure these rooms have an open layout. If it’s not possible to rethink your home layout — maybe you don’t have an extra room on the ground floor, or your full bathroom is upstairs — then refer back to recommendations on mobility aids for stairs.
10. Bring in More Natural Light
Beginning as early as your mid 40’s, your eyesight can start to decline. This is especially true for seeing things close up. What can you do to improve visibility for aging in place?
It’s time to draw back the curtains and make changes that increase the level of natural light during the day. With decreased vision, spaces with more sunlight allow you to move around safely.
For nighttime, make sure proper lighting is set up in each area of the house and light fixtures are easily accessible — even in the peak of your health, who really enjoys stumbling around in the dark to switch on a light? If you’re confident in your tech-savviness, then voice-activated lighting can be a great move. See more in the next section.
11. Purchase Smart Home Devices
Smart home devices automate home features such as lighting or temperature. That way, you can adjust these features without leaving the couch. Also, at night, automatic lights ensure you have a well-lit path to the restroom. Plus, with smart speakers, you can easily look up a recipe or make a phone call.
The caveat here is to make sure you feel confident in setting up and troubleshooting these devices. You’ll also want to check that your wireless Internet connection is stable and accessible throughout the home. That way, you’ll make sure smart devices are actually helpful and not just another source of headaches.
12. Buy Assistive Seating
After a long day, your muscles may be in need of some mechanical assistance. If you’ve never heard of assistive seating, then you might be surprised at how helpful they can be for aging in place.
These types of seats lift forward so you can easily get out of your chair. You can put them on your couch, armchair, or office chair. With this device, you can be more self-sufficient.
Aging in Place Home Modifications
Many people would rather age at home, and it’s not surprising why. Being at home is more comfortable and often can be closer to your loved ones. However, this plan does require a fair bit of preparation for your future needs. So, follow these tips to prepare your house for old age and an enjoyable experience aging in place.
Evelyn Long is the editor-in-chief of Renovated, a home improvement publisher with advice on gardening, decor, and DIY projects.