Aging in Place: How to Remodel Your Home and Stay as Long as Possible

by Jennifer Grey, Columnist
June 15, 2011

There are plenty of wonderful senior living communities out there. But for many older adults, no matter how lovely the neighborhood and how terrific the services, a senior community isn’t the first choice—staying at home is.

It’s difficult for older adults to stay in the home as they age—because many homes were not designed to accommodate aging in place. Still, you can make some basic changes to your home that will make it easier for you to stay as you age. Here are a few ideas for older adults who want to stay in their homes as long as possible.

Check out your bathroom

With its wet floors, slippery tiles, and constant demands that users sit and stand, the bathroom can be one of the most dangerous rooms in the house for older adults. The least expensive and easiest changes involve installing grab bars to make it easier to lower oneself into a tub or onto a toilet; raising the height of toilet seats; and widening doorways to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. You can also install a new shower that eliminates the “curb” area, making it easier to enter the shower with a walker or wheelchair.

Get on the ground floor

No matter how friendly and accommodating a senior community may be, the ideal situation for you may be staying in your own home. Increase the chances that you won’t have to move someday by planning for aging early on.

Stairs grow more and more difficult to negotiate as we get older. If you want to age in place, you’ll probably need to move all your living space down to the first floor. Chances are your living room, kitchen, and one bathroom are there already—so find a space for a bedroom, or add one on. You may also need to add a first-floor laundry room, if you currently do laundry in your basement.

Add a caretaker suite

If you have the budget for an extensive remodel, you may want to add in space for an apartment that a live-in caretaker can occupy once you need one. If you have an upstairs, you could give it over to the caretaker’s living space and move all your living area to the first floor. Before you need a caretaker, the extra space could be used for guests.

Extend your driveway

How many steps does it take you to get to your front door? These steps may feel negligible now, but when you’re older, it may be a struggle to negotiate uneven footing while getting to your house—especially in the winter or after a storm. Consider extending your driveway so that you can get to your front door quickly and easily after you get out of the car.

Change your light switches

Rocker switches can be easier than traditional switches to operate—especially if you have arthritis. Placing control panels for all lights in the house in a centralized spot on the first floor—near the front door or the bed, for example—guarantees that you won’t be stuck going into the basement or outside the house to fix a blown fuse.

Redo the kitchen

Kitchens can also be highly dangerous places for those with mobility issues. To make the kitchen more maneuverable, consider installing a sink that can be raised or lowered, roll-out shelves that don’t require standing on a stool to reach; and cabinet doors that retract inward to leave knee space for those in wheelchairs.

Plan for a wheelchair

It’s possible that you or someone in your family might need to use a wheelchair or walker someday. Be sure your doorways and hallways are wide enough to accommodate that; a wheelchair needs about a 5-foot turn radius. In addition, check out your front door entry—be sure it’s as level with the ground as possible, and get rid of stairways. Do it fairly early so you won’t have to install a costly wheelchair ramp later on.

No matter how friendly and accommodating a senior community may be, the ideal situation for you may be staying in your own home. Increase the chances that you won’t have to move someday by planning for aging early on. Consider making changes to your bathroom and kitchen that make it easier to maneuver; and be sure you can live entirely on the first floor of your home if need be. With the help of a contractor with experience in remodeling to accommodate aging in place, you should be able to stay in your home as long as possible.

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