Entrances: Make them easy to get in and out of your house with groceries, a baby or a walker. Aim for one or more entrances without steps to offer convenience and unlimited access for family, guests and elderly adults. Doors should be at least 32-36 inches wide, with a lever-style handle for easy grasping (incorporating locks where necessary for child safety), and open outward if at all possible. Interior doors can also have their hinges replaced with offset hinges that will allow for an extra two inches of width clearance. A Home with Universal Design Features Lets You Age in Place. A pocket door is even better, simple to operate and granting quick access for those with wheelchairs or walkers. Pocket doors require plenty of usable adjacent wall space for installation, but can also be mounted on the wall surface if needed like the old style barn doors.
Flooring: another consideration for older adults making home modifications with the goal of aging in place. The first step is to evaluate the home’s existing floors. If the carpet is older and shaggy, you may want to consider replacing it with new carpeting that has a shorter nap. Seniors are less likely to trip on shorter-nap carpeting, and it’s also more suitable for seniors who navigate through the home with the use of a walker or wheelchair. Hardwood, tile, laminate, and vinyl floors are smooth and may allow for easier wheelchair maneuvering, but they also tend to be more slippery than carpeting. People often use throw rugs on these types of flooring, so be sure that you either get rid of them or securely tape them down to prevent trips and falls.
Stairways: Equip all stairways with secure handrails running along both sides of the steps. Make sure that stair treads are roomy enough to prevent trips, and edges are marked for easy visibility (use a different color of tile, stain the edge of a wood step with a contrasting tone for a helpful and decorative detail, run a metal edge along a carpeted step, or accentuate with colorful tape). Better yet add lighting that will make it easy to see every stair tread for increased safety (and it looks cool).
Lighting: As we age, we need more light for reading and other tasks. Adding or enlarging windows is a terrific option. Windows connect us to nature and our community and allow people to easily watch their children and pets in the yard. Blinds or draperies offer a way to manage privacy and level of sunlight. Fill your home with plenty of bright lighting, and have a night light on duty at all times in the bathroom. Larger, rocker type light switches are handy for everyone, and even come in illuminated models.
Furniture: Select furniture especially chairs that are sturdy, easy to move around, and to get in and out of, and that don’t have any sharp edges. Specify comfortable chairs that support correct posture for living areas. Ensure that chairs have firm back support at the right angle. Chairs with arms allow users to rise easily, but for maximum stability, should not extend more than one inch beyond the face of the seat of the chair. Most importantly, reduce the amount of furniture to make it easier to get around.
Kitchen: The kitchen is where people tend to invest most renovation dollars. Strive for an open design and varied counter heights (between 32 inches and 42 inches) to make it usable for various ages and abilities. Make storage accessible with pullout shelves and open shelving. Have a good blend of natural and artificial light for aesthetics as well as safety and convenience. Outfit cabinets with easy-to-grasp hardware.
Bedrooms: If you don’t have a bedroom on your first floor, consider adding one. This option works for multiple life stages: new baby, college student, empty-nesters and aging parents. Keep closets accessible as well as organized, with easy-to-reach clothing rods stationed between 20 and 44 inches off the floor. Full-extension storage drawers located no higher than 30 inches off the floor. Higher drawers should be shallow and lower drawers can be deeper.
Outdoors: Features such as covered entrances, wraparound decks and planters or container gardens help connect a home to the neighborhood and become natural extensions of the home. A wraparound deck, level with the first floor, allows access to each entrance and fosters a sense of community. Covered entrances prevent water and snow buildup on porches and provide protection for all family members entering and exiting the home in all weather. Gardens are aesthetically pleasing, can be therapeutic, and can help provide food for a meal.
Bathrooms: Design the bathroom for convenience and to help prevent slipping. Consider what you, your family or a visitor using a wheelchair might need to get around. Make sure the walls can accommodate grab bars, and that the sink, shower and toilet are accessible to people of all ages, heights and mobility. A door opening of at least 32 inches allows better access. A safe easy access shower instead of a tub is one of the most critical improvements you can do to your home. Accidents in the bathroom far outnumber any other room in the home. Eliminating the need to climb over the front of tub to take a shower is one of the first renovations you should consider when modifying your home to age in place. If converting a tub to a walk-in shower is not feasible, consider getting a bath chair that is wide enough to be placed both in the tub and on the bathroom floor. You can sit on it, and swing your legs over the edge of the tub to then be seated in the tub for your shower. And get a hand-held shower head while you are making these changes. It provides even more control while bathing. If you don’t want to replace your existing toilet, use an elevated toilet seat. Like the grab bars, this will make it easier for you to get up and down without trouble. They’re pretty easy to find and install and can make one of your daily tasks a much simpler process.
Safety: Install a doorbell and smoke detector that light up when activated. For seniors whose hearing is starting to slip, you might need a little extra warning when a smoke alarm goes off or a doorbell rings. You can find versions of both items that will add some lights to the equation.
Jeff Mooney is Owner of Custom Bath Solutions and is – a Certified Aging In Place Specialist (CAPS)
*By 2040 the population of people over age 65 would top 20% of the world population
*There were 40.3 million people age 65 and older on April 1, 2010, an increase of 5.3 million since the 2000 census. The 65+ age group grew at a faster rate than the total U.S. population, increasing by 15.1 percent as compared to 9.7 percent for the total population
*The number of people 65 and older in the United States is expected to increase to 55 million in 2020; to some 70 million by 2030, and to 88.5 million — or 20 percent of the population — in 2050.
*Put yet another way, between 2006 and 2030, the U.S. population of adults aged 65+ will nearly double from 37 million to 71.5 million people.
*Among the age groups within the older population, the 85-to-94-year olds experienced the fastest growth between 2000 and 2010, rising from 9.5 million to 12.4 million.
*The number of people age 85 and older — who often require additional caregiving and support — will increase from about 14% of the older population today to 21 percent in 2050.
*States with the highest concentration of people age 50+: Maine, New Hampshire, Montana, Vermont, West Virginia, Michigan, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Ohio and Alaska. In each of these states from 33.5 percent (Alaska) to 36.8 percent (Maine) of the total adult population was born between 1946 and 1964.
*”Aging in Place”: 87 percent of adults age 65+ want to stay in their current home and community as they age. Among people age 50 to 64, 71 percent of people want to age in place
Aging In Place Home Modifications