Outfitting Your Home to Age in Place

While moving to a retirement or assisted living facility may be the right decision for some, more and more people are choosing a concept called “Aging in Place.” This idea consists of retrofitting one’s home to make it safe and accessible for the elderly, allowing seniors to remain in the familiarity of their own homes longer. Here are some ideas on how you can enhance the safety of your home as you prepare to enter your golden years.

The sleek bathroom incorporates a grab bar and a curb-less walk-in shower. Image courtesy of Kohler Kitchen & Bath. http://www.kohler.com

1. Prevent Falls in the Bathroom

Bathrooms are the number one place where falls occur, so the majority of safety-enhancing design changes should be made there. Installing grab bars in the shower, tub and toilet area can help prevent falls, but there’s no reason these additions need to look institutional. Manufacturers have created grab bars that are less utilitarian-looking, and more stylish and multifunctional — for example a unique toilet paper holder that doubles as a grab bar, or a towel rack cum grab bar. Another important bathroom change is a curb-less, walk-in shower to eliminate trip hazards, and installing a comfort-height toilet to make it easier to sit and stand. Installing small-sized tiles will create a non-slip floor surface, and be sure to eliminate throw rugs, which are major tripping hazards.

2. Improve Accessibility in the Kitchen

Consider installing appliances at non-traditional heights for easier access. For example, the oven can be installed lower and the dishwasher higher — or opt for a dishwasher drawer, which is only half height, meaning you don’t have to reach down so low. Also think about creating multi-level counter heights, some with open knee space below, to facilitate future use of a wheelchair.

3. Small Changes to Enhance Safety and Access

The most important thing you can do to improve accessibility is to eliminate changes in floor levels, such as steps up to the front door, or stairs leading between living and sleeping areas — even one step could be an obstacle for a wheelchair. Consider creating a bedroom/bathroom suite on the first floor for use as you age. Another good change is to create doorways and hallways that are wide enough for wheelchairs. Spaces must be at least 36” wide to accommodate the average wheelchair. Switch knob handles to lever handles on doors, cabinets and faucets throughout the house. Lever handles are easier for hands affected by arthritis.

4. Automate Your House for Control and Security

Almost everything in your home can be automated, controlled via a wall unit, or even in some cases voice-activated. You might consider installing motorized window treatments that open and close with a touch of a button or motion-activated lights that turn on when you enter a room. You could install security cameras at each entrance to the home and get push notifications to your phone when people like caregivers or housekeepers come and go. Security systems allow you to give access to multiple family members, even those living in different cities. So everyone can help check in on mom and dad.

You may be surprised to know that many of these changes can be made for less than the cost of paying for one month’s expenses in a retirement home or assisted living community, but on the other hand, it’s hard to put a price tag on the happiness that living many more years in your own home will bring.

Riguerra Design is an innovative, award-winning design firm that has helped many clients create their dream homes. Check out her website at riguerradesign.com for more information.

This article is also published in The PILOT, the monthly publication of the Redwood Shores Community Association (RSCA).