When you have worked hard all your life to buy the house of your dreams, decorated it just the way you want, spent time and money maintaining it and adapting it so it works for you, you want to enjoy living in your home for the rest of your senior years. Add into that the memories of family life that have built up in your home and perhaps the extra space you need for returning visits from children and grandchildren and the family home becomes somewhere that you never want to give up.
However with older age can come mobility, sight or hearing impairments which might make people feel their home is not safe or suitable for them anymore, and that moving out may be the only option.
Staying in your family home as you enter your senior years is called ‘aging in place’ and the great news is that there are many small adaptations that can be made to the home now to make it a suitable place for you to grow older, retaining your independence, pride in your home, and security as a senior.
1. Adapt your kitchen
When you next consider remodeling your kitchen, take advantage of the range of features that are available to make life easier for seniors. By including them in a new design now you can ensure that further down the line your kitchen will work for you, no matter what issues may arise.
Install eye-level appliances to minimize the amount of bending and stretching needed to access ovens, refrigerators, even washing machines to make the laundry easier. Consider a pull-out pantry which lets you see canned goods and boxes at a glance without putting a strain on your back and knees. Choose corner cabinet insets or traditional Lazy Susans that pull out to reveal the contents easily, helping you to utilize the extra space without needing to reach too far to get to the jar at the back. Also opt for drawers instead of cabinets which also make the contents very easy to see and reach and can be used to stow heavier items and pots and pans.
Aim to keep your stove and sink as close as possible (with counter in between) to make it less difficult to carry large pots of water between the two, and so avoiding unnecessary spills which can make the floor slick and a slip hazard.
Avoid sharp corners and 90-degree angles on shelves and countertops to make it easier to move around safely without bumping or bruising yourself.
Also make sure the lighting is suitable for the cooking tasks needed, too dim and reading may be difficult, too bright and the glare may actually make it harder to see with some later on-set eye conditions.
2. Focus on creating clear walkways
Having ample space to move around the home may not seem like a big issue, but for people with mobility difficulties it’s vital. In standard built homes the recommended clearance between walls and doors is 36 inches, which is enough room to comfortably pass in a walkway. However, if you want a home that can accommodate a wheelchair, the Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines state that 40 to 60 inches is the magic distance to make easy access possible.
Consider adding places to stop and rest down drinks or trays that might be carried from room to room, and place a comfortable chair in spaces where someone might need to stop, for example, to put their shoes on.
Walkways should have suitable flooring, be non-slip, and obstacle-free. Making sure there is plenty of storage is also useful for keeping clutter away from floors.
3. Install a home elevator
Many seniors site the stairs as the biggest obstacle to staying in their home. Although it may seem now like climbing the stairs could never be a struggle, knee and hip joints in seniors can become a huge source of pain and discomfort, and even dizziness can make stairs too difficult, enough to make the whole of the second floor out of bounds to someone who suffers.
By installing a home elevator you can add an invaluable piece of apparatus that will be useful both now and will see you through your senior years, and even add value to your home.
Advances in technology mean that many of the available home elevators can be fitted very discreetly traveling from closet to closet, while the sleek and stylish designs mean that many people are opting to keep their elevator on show as a feature in their entrance hall.
Some home elevators are slim and suitable for one person standing up, however if you suspect more serious future mobility issues, opt for a larger elevator which can take a wheelchair or two people traveling together. Whichever you choose, they are useful in all stages of life, and can be a real talking point of the home.
4. Make your Bathroom Accessible
When remodeling your bathroom, as with the kitchen there are many small changes which can make all the difference to make it suitable for aging in place. Convenience and safety are the prime concerns when it comes to bathrooms and, as for kitchens, how you move around the space needs careful consideration. You must be able to navigate safely and comfortably to each part of the facilities, and everything must be as convenient as possible, helping to avoid slips and trips.
One of the most popular and essential adaptations to make is to install a step-in tub which removes the risk of lifting a leg over the side of the tub, and balancing on one leg which can be difficult in later years. Another type of bathtub available is one with a watertight door which you through before closing and filling the tub, which provides all the benefits of a standard tub, being able to sit down and relax in the water, but makes it much easier to get in and out.
If there is not the space needed for a tub, or if you simply prefer a shower, a curbless shower can be an option for people wishing to age in place. With no lip on the edge of the shower, it means that it is fully accessible for a walker, wheelchair, or transfer chair to be rolled right in, reducing the risk of a fall.
Other aids for showering and bathing in comfort include chairs and stools which can be used to sit on whilst washing, either built in to the wall or removable stand-alone pieces of furniture, and removable and adjustable shower heads which are useful when mobility become difficult.
Another essential bathroom consideration, though not glamorous, is making the toilet suitable for aging in place. Most toilets are set at a standard height, however, installing a higher toilet seat can make all the difference for someone who has difficulty getting up from sitting. There are also add-ons available to raise the toilet seat. Grab rails are a great idea to help seniors with mobility problems stay independent.
Extra features to think about are non-slip flooring, making sure counter heights are at the right level to make access as easy as possible, and ensuring that the lighting is as good as possible. Even consider an automatic light sensor to make late night visits to the bathroom much easier and safer.
5. Create a Senior-friendly Backyard
It is easy to forget how even the simple things like stepping out into your own backyard might feel daunting to an older senior. However there are many changes that can be made now to ensure that you can continue to enjoy your yard through older years.
The step down from doorways is just the start, but by putting in a slope or shallow steps with a handrail, you can make sure that an older person can get outside safely. Much of looking after a back yard often requires ongoing maintenance and heavy lifting, so design your aging in place yard to minimize the amount of work needed to keep it looking great all year round.
Introduce raised beds and pots for flowers, as not only are they higher, so can be looked after from a seated position, but weeds and pests can be controlled much more easily in a self-contained planter. In addition it might be a good idea to choose good hardy plants that will come back year on year, and won’t require too much looking after.
Lay good, wide paths that are smooth and therefore make it less likely to trip as well as being suitable for a wheelchair or walker. Add benches and seats in your favorite spots so there is always somewhere to sit and enjoy the sun or shade whatever the weather, and don’t forget that if your yard is prone to a lot of sun, an awning or sun shade can be perfect to prevent you from getting too hot in summer.