According to a 2016 study by Homeadvisor, 61 percent of adults over the age of 55 are hoping to stay at their current homes indefinitely. While assisted living at home, or Aging-In-Place, can be complicated, we hope that this list of the most important home modifications will help to keep seniors safe and comfortable at their homes or the home of a caregiver for as long as possible. Eldercare.gov has a link to the AARP checklist for home modifications which can be a helpful place to start.
Bathrooms are the most important area for home modifications, as seniors are often alone and slippery surfaces and unsure movements can cause accidents. An article in The San Diego Tribune contains a helpful image with suggestions for the most helpful locations for grab bars. We suggest installing grab bars by the toilet and bath or shower. These help keep seniors independent longer and allow accidents to be avoided easily.
Slippery surfaces are always a danger, especially when mobility and balance become challenging. Installing non-slip bathroom floors can be a great help. If that option is outside of your budget, consider using non-slip bathroom mats or tub mats as a budget friendly option.
Toilet risers are easy to install and can allow seniors to stay independent for longer. Bending too low to reach a toilet can cause falls and accidents, and a simple adjustment can make a big difference in this area.
A sitting tub can be a helpful, though expensive, tool in the bathroom, especially for seniors who are in wheelchairs or have limited mobility. A simpler alternative is to install a shower chair or seat, which allows for safety at a lower cost. An even more cost effective alternative is to use a simple shower stool. They won’t break the bank and they make showering independently much safer.
Kitchens are another area that can be made more comfortable to use during aging. Lowering kitchen countertops so they can be used by those in wheelchairs is a change that allows seniors to enjoy daily activities such as cooking for much longer.
Cabinet and door handles are another easy fix. Changing door handles to levers and cabinet pulls to C or D shaped pulls allow for easier access and longer independence. Also, changing kitchen cabinets to drawers can allow those with limited mobility access to their kitchen for longer.
Lighting is a more general area in which there can be many levels of modification. Some seniors prefer brighter or dimmer lighting, depending on what their vision is like. More lighting is recommended for areas that are not well lit, such as kitchen work spaces or closets. Another helpful adjustment is to change lights to motion sensors. This can be especially helpful for those with limited mobility and keeps seniors’ living spaces visible, even at night.
Wider doorways are a favorite modification of interior decorators as they make spaces look larger. They also serve to allow wheelchairs to effortlessly pass through doors, which allows wheelchair users to be independent in their homes and able to move around easily.
Installing a ramp at the front of your house can also be helpful. Wheelchair users often face challenges with accessibility if they are suddenly limited in their mobility, and a front ramp can be the most important change to make in order to continue living at your home or the home of a loved one.
Finally, allowing for a chair lift or elevator (or room for either to be installed later) can make or break a senior’s long term ability to stay at home. A chairlift or elevator can be costly, but they often make the greatest difference in allowing seniors to stay at home. If a home is on multiple floors, this is an important modification to make to keep seniors in their familiar surroundings for longer.
There are a range of home modifications for different areas of the home as well as different stages and budgets. Help funding these changes can come from different places, and the AARP has a list of ways to help pay for these important modifications. Seniors or their caregivers also have the option of using a contractor who is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), trained through the AARP and the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). These CAPS contractors have specialized training and information about Aging in Place and are a rich resource for seniors or their loved ones to help adapt living spaces. Being in familiar surroundings can be helpful to those with memory care issues, and can be a comfort in difficult times for all elders. These modifications can help to stretch out that time of independence longer, and can make a huge difference for seniors or their caregivers or loved ones.
If you, or a loved one, are considering making home modifications you may want to speak with a local Geriatric Care Manager to help advise on the process. You may also want to consider senior living communities for a short-term stay during any construction.