Aging in Place, Part 1: Making Your Home Safer & More Age-Friendly

Aging in Place, Part 1: Making Your Home Safer & More Age-Friendly

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More than ever before, seniors are choosing to “age in place,” staying in their own homes and apartments rather than moving to retirement communities or into assisted living facilities. Long-term care can be expensive, and many seniors prefer staying in the homes where they have created so many cherished memories over the years. Modern technology and services such as food delivery programs make it easier and safer than ever before to age in place. 


Though aging in place has its benefits, choosing to do so may require making some important decisions. Most seniors who choose to age in place may need to modify their homes in ways that will make them safer and more functional to live in. Some of these modifications may be simple and affordable, whereas others may be costlier projects. By implementing such changes, however, seniors can ensure that they can continue living safely in their homes for years to come.Are you considering remaining in your home for the long-term future? Consider the following tips for helping you safely age in place. 



Get Your Living Space Evaluated


Oftentimes, the best way to determine which home modifications need to be made is by evaluating the way in which you move around your living space. Take the time to consider areas of your home that are more challenging for you to navigate. Do you have a spiral staircase that’s difficult to use? Do you have trouble bending down or reaching up to get items out of your kitchen cabinets? Do you worry about getting out of your bathtub without slipping? Go through your home room by room and look for potential safety hazards. Are there places where you could easily trip and fall, for instance? Consider inviting relatives or a friend over to have a look at your home, too. If you’d like to get a professional perspective on your home’s current configuration, reach out to a contractor who specializes in home modifications. He or she may be able to spot areas of improvement more easily than you can.



Talk to Your Healthcare Team


Do you currently see a doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist on a regular basis? If so, these professionals might have some suggestions for how you can modify your home. Some occupational therapists, for instance, have a background in environmental modifications. Anyone who is familiar with your health status will likely be able to offer you a fresh perspective on the ways in which you can make your home both safer and more functional for the future.



Realize that Less is More


If you’ve lived in your home for years, you’ve likely accumulated many possessions over time. Though all of us have certain items that we never hope to part with, most of our houses are filled with much more clutter than we realize. As we get older, this clutter can become a hindrance to our mobility. Take the time to really clean up your home. You likely have many possessions that you can donate or get rid of. Once you’ve tidied your home, consider looking at the rest of your furniture and possessions with a more practical eye. You may love a certain rug, but may also realize that it’s a tripping hazard. You might like all of your bedroom furniture, but might realize that it would be impossible to move through your room with a wheelchair or walker, should you need to use either in the future. In general, it’s best to create at least a five by five foot space (one and a half by one and a half meters) in the center area of each major room to allow for ideal mobility. Keep furniture and objects that are either practical or have genuine sentimental value to you. Clear away the rest of the clutter to make your living space safer and more liveable. 



Consider Entryways 


Many home entryways are less than ideal for those with mobility issues. Steep front steps, raised door frames, or unpaved walkways are just a few of the many issues faced by aging homeowners. If you don’t already have one, consider creating at least one simple, no-step entryway into your home. Think about whether or not you’d like this entryway to be covered or not. If the doorway is level with the walking surface outdoors, you may also need to improve drainage in this area, to prevent rain and snowfall from collecting near the doorway. You may also consider keeping any exterior stairs outside of your home, but adding a ramp next to, or on top of, the existing steps. Creating a more accessible entryway will make it easier for you or for others with mobility issues to enter your home.



Consider How You’ll Get Upstairs and Downstairs


For many aging homeowners, residing in a multi-floor home ultimately becomes a burden and a liability. If you choose to age in place in a household with multiple floors, you will likely want to consider how you will get upstairs and downstairs as you get older. Conditions like arthritis, muscle atrophy, and other illnesses and injuries can make it very difficult to get up a set of stairs, particularly without assistance. Even couples may find that they are no longer strong enough to help one another up or down a set of stairs. In this case, you may want to consider installing an electric stair lift or home elevator. Though you may have no mobility issues at the present time, it is worth considering these upgrades now, as they may become necessary in the future. Installing a home elevator, for instance, can also improve the resale value of your home. If you’re looking to improve mobility without investing in such upgrades, consider altering the floor plan of your home to make it more practical for daily use. Your upstairs bedroom can be moved downstairs, for instance. Your upstairs rooms can be reserved for storage and office space instead. Though mobility might not be a major issue at the present time, considering your options now will save you from stress in the future. 



Discuss Doorways


If your health declines in the future, you may find that conventional doors are less convenient for you. Round door knobs, for instance, can be very hard for those with arthritic or trembling hands to manage. Lever-style door knobs can be easily installed on your own or with the help of a friend or handyman. 


Standard doors may open into rooms or hallways, taking up space and potentially catching on wheelchairs and walkers. If it is within your budget, it may be in your best interest to widen certain doorways in your home. Consider installing sliding pocket doors, or, in some cases, removing doors from door frames altogether. This will allow you to move from room to room with greater ease while also creating a sense of spaciousness within your home. Though this project may involve installing new trim, relocating light switches, repainting walls, and repairing the surrounding flooring, experienced carpenters can usually alter doorways in just a few days.



Focus on Flooring 


Flooring is an important factor to consider in regards to both safety and convenience. Consistency throughout the home is ideal; by having less types of flooring throughout the home, you can reduce the number of thresholds and edges that you could possibly trip over. Focus on replacing ceramic flooring, which is particularly hard, cold, slippery, and likely to cause injury in case of a fall. Vinyl, wood, linoleum, cork, and rubber flooring are all good, safe options for aging in place. These surfaces are easier on the body, easy to clean, and are less likely to result in serious injury should an accident occurs.



To Be Continued:


Home renovations can be complicated and time-consuming. For this reason, we’ve decided to provide additional aging in place tips in next week’s article. If you’re considering modifying your home for aging in place, begin doing your research and evaluating your home for potential areas of improvement. By making these modifications in advance, you can ensure that your home is mobility-friendly for the long-term future. 


Photo: © /mohamed Hassan

Editor, 10/08/2020