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Home Modifications For Seniors Who Are Aging In Place

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making a senior friendly home

Updated June 17, 2022 – The majority of older adults want to spend the rest of their lives in their own home where it’s familiar and comfortable. And although it’s not possible for everyone – the good news is that there are things that older people can do to try to make that wish possible.

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Aging in Place is defined as, “… living in one’s home safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level. It means the pleasure of living in a familiar environment throughout one’s maturing years, and the ability to enjoy the familiar daily rituals and the special events that enrich all our lives. It means the reassurance of being able to call a house a ‘home’ for a lifetime.”

atlantahomemods.com

Home modification for seniors may involve some construction or it may be something to consider if someone is choosing a new home when relocating after retirement, but before a hammer is picked up, it’s important to have a plan as to what is needed.

Just FYI – Occupational Therapists or a Certified Aging In Place Specialist who has expertise in Universal Design can help you with your specific home situation. After all, a modified home can greatly improve the chances for seniors to be safe and live longer in their own homes.

For more information about aging in place, check out this PDF by the National Center for Equitable Care For Elders

15 Common Home Modifications For Elderly and Disabled

Here is our list of the top 15 common house modifications for elderly citizens. These would also apply to family caregivers who are looking to help their senior loved ones from having to move into an assisted living or into a new home.

Before we get to the list – check out our article on technology products for aging in place.

1. Decluttering

The easiest and least expensive home modification that any senior or family member can do to make a home senior friendly is to declutter the living spaces.

It’s the best way to get started on any senior home modification project.

Here are some easy steps to decluttering:

  • Make a list of all the rooms in the house and divide those rooms into sections.
  • Add each section to a calendar to help you STAY on track and disciplined to do the work.
  • If it’s too difficult to get rid of things – consider storing them in a storage unit or another person’s home.
  • Place all items to be donated in the car right away. Once the car is full of these items – take them to the location to be donated.
  • Throw away items immediately – do not place them in another pile to “think about it later”.
  • Having a friend or someone else to help you through the process can be very helpful.
  • Also – once the home has been decluttered, it’s a good idea to do any home repairs that are needed to make it as safe as possible.

2. Make Steps Safer

Aging in place for seniors often involves overcoming the issue of stairways. So, the next hurdle to take on is the project of making steps and stairways safer for the older residents of the home. This includes indoor and outdoor steps.

There are basically 4 factors involved here:

  • Making the steps as non-slippery as possible – this could be as simple as installing stair treads or adding some anti slip material to the stairs.
  • Proper installation of handrails and possible additional handrails – this requires a little construction and maybe home repairs type of work but adding a second set of handrails or adjusting their height may be necessary.
  • Lighting – is the most undervalued aspect of home remodeling for seniors. Adding extra lights everywhere is important. Sensor lights throughout the home or using Alexa or Google home for voice activated commands to turn lights on and off can greatly help.
  • Adaptive equipment as needed (i.e. stair aids, stair lifts, etc.) – Stair lifts can be expensive but there are ways to pay for it and they can certainly be a safe way to help an older adult navigate a staircase. A mobile stairlift (sort of like a wheelchair on caterpillar tracks) is a great option because there is no installation required and it is portable.

3. Widen Doorways

If you are going to be aging in place, it’s important to accept the fact that you may – at some point – need a walker or a wheelchair and if that is the case, then it’s important to have doorways that are wide enough to accommodate them.

This of course means some construction and re-installing a new door frame.

The doorways (interior and exterior) should be at least 32 inches wide – honestly – 40 inches would be better.

This width can easily accommodate a standard wheelchair or a standard walker.

When I did home assessments as an Occupational Therapist in South Florida where many seniors live in older condominiums – there were many times that we had to recommend a significant widening of a doorway or two just so my patient could go home and get into their kitchen and/or bathroom!

The new condos and assisted living facilities that many seniors live in today are more senior friendly for those aging in place.

4. Threshold Ramps

My mom-in-law once spent an agonizing 30 minutes trying to push her wheelchair over the threshold ramp that separated her bathroom from her bedroom.

We recommend replacing any threshold ramps with ones that are as thin as possible – like these.

5. Non Slip Flooring

There are multiple products that can be used these days to make a floor less slippery.

If replacing your existing flooring is not an option – you can look into products by companies like Trusty-Step, Slip Doctors and SlipTec Solutions which all offer products that can be applied (like a varnish) onto existing flooring.

These work on ceramic tile, terrazzo, porcelain, quarry tile, fiberglass, brick, wood, concrete, marble, granite, vinyl and travertine tiles.

By the way – I strongly recommend to remove throw rugs because of the potential of possibly tripping on them. But I also know that many older adults refuse to do this so at the very least, please make sure to use grippers like any of these to keep the rugs in place.

6. Bathroom Modifications

Home modifications for seniors more than likely will certainly involve the bathroom.

Anyone who is aging in place should know that their bathrooms will probably need some universal design changes to make it safer for them.

There is more to a bathroom modification than just just adding grab bars here and there.

Make sure to have as many of the following bathroom modifications made to make it a safer room for seniors.

  • Creating a barrier free walk in shower.
  • Alterations to the bathtub could include replacing it with a walk in tub or converting it to a cut out tub or installing a bathtub lift.
  • Adding grab bars and bathtub grab bars throughout the bathroom and handicap toilet grab bars or toilet safety rails as needed. These may qualify as durable medical equipment so check with Medicare or Medicaid.
  • Replacing the toilet seat with a raised seat (or replacing the toilet itself with a taller one).
  • Replacing all faucet levers with extended handles instead of knob types.
  • Make the bathroom floors as anti slip as possible (either replace it with new anti slip flooring or add non slip products as I mentioned earlier).
  • Adding an anti scald device in your shower to help prevent scalding (skin of older adults tend to be thinner and more susceptible to hot water).
  • Installing a handheld shower head.

Bathrooms tend to be a particularly hazardous part of any home, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that injury rates around tubs and toilets increase with age.

clevelandclinic.org

These changes will also make it much easier for a health care provider to provide personal home care services for daily tasks such as bathing and hygiene if that’s needed in the future.

7. Kitchen Modifications

Kitchens are probably the most remodeled rooms in any home so any home modification to a kitchen where the residents will be aging in place should include any of the following:

  • Lots of lighting – as we all grow older our vision diminishes naturally so it’s important to have plenty of available lighting everywhere, including the kitchen. Canned ceiling lights are great because you can have them installed throughout the ceiling, they offer clear bright light without shadows and you never have to dust them because they are built in to the ceiling.
  • Make cabinets easy to access – I recommend that upper cabinets have pull down shelves and that lower cabinets have pull out shelves and lazy susans to make it easier to access items. Today it seems that the trend is lower cabinets and shelves above the counters instead of cabinets. The one reason I don’t recommend this new trend is simply because all those items on those open shelves will require some cleaning at times and accessing those items may be hazardous.
  • Kitchen chairs – very important to use kitchen chairs that have no rolling coasters on them. If you need chairs that are easier to slide out then I recommend placing some furniture gliders under those chairs but still – make sure that the chair will NOT easily move away from you as you try to sit down or stand up.
  • Stove and oven safety – an auto shut off device is highly recommended and there are many options available these days to make stoves and ovens safer.

8. Wheelchair Ramps

Aging in place sometimes does mean installing a permanent ramp if your elderly parent can’t walk.

Normally, these are not installed until after someone requires them, usually for wheelchair access. But if you anticipate that you will be needing a ramp at any point – it’s a project to work on or at the very least, prepare for.

There are multiple types of ramps that can be used, permanent ones, portable ones, wooden ones, metal ones, etc. But if you happen to live in a home where a wheelchair ramp is not possible – an option to consider an outdoor stair lift. Another option is a mobile stairlift.

You may have to check with your Homeowner’s Association (HOA) to see if there are restrictions on what you can add to your property as far as ramps.

You may also want to look at the possibility of portable ramps if the situation is temporary.

9. Chair Lifts (aka Stair Lifts)

A chair lift can be a very necessary and safe piece of equipment for seniors who have mobility issues but need to get up and down steps. These are installed by professional companies that have experience with this equipment.

Stair lifts can be installed on strait and curved staircases and the cost can vary.

For more information about stair lifts – click here.

10. Lighting

As I mentioned above, it’s very important to have lots and lots of lighting throughout the home. It’s the one home modification that many older adults seem to forget about or ignore.

Canned lighting in the ceiling is the best (in my humble opinion) for anyone aging in place but of course, there are many other types of lighting that you can use as well.

  • Floor lamps (great as long as the lamp doesn’t cause extra clutter)
  • Plug in table lamps
  • Night lights
  • LED lights
  • Battery powered lights
  • Outdoor solar lights (don’t forget to add lighting outdoors)
  • Senior friendly light switches

Connecting some lights to motion sensors like outdoor lights, stair lights, night lights, etc. would be a smart thing to do.

11. Smart Home Devices

Aging in place is getting so much easier with all the amazing technology available today. As more and more devices become available, many older adults are incorporating them into their home remodeling projects. Any why not?

Those smart technology products can make their lives easier and safer as they grow older and older in their homes.

Here’s a list of some of the smart home devices you may want to add to your home modifications list:

12. Senior Friendly Appliances

Senior friendly appliances are simply those that have built in safety guards and/or are very easy to use. It’s a fairly easy modification to do for anyone aging in place or for caregivers who have their senior parents living with them.

If you’re remodeling your home and replacing your old appliances with new ones and you plan to age in place, here are some senior friendly features to look for when choosing your new appliances.

  • Refrigerators – I have owned refrigerators with top freezers and side by side freezers. But I currently own a fridge with a bottom freezer and it’s the best one (in my opinion). It’s very easy to access things in that bottom drawer. Also, my fridge has pull out shelves and drawers which also makes it very easy to access items in there.
  • Custom programmable microwaves – You can customize these microwaves to your own preferences. So, if you like to boil your cup of water for your tea for 3 minutes, you can just create a “tea” button for 3 minutes.
  • Toaster ovens – My mother used her toaster oven much more than her oven because she was only cooking for herself. I would recommend one that has an auto shut off feature for safety.

Note: some smart appliances will also come in handy in an assisted living home.

13. Senior Friendly Door Handles

Another often overlooked senior home modification is door handles (and shower and faucet handles too).

The most senior friendly handles that we recommend are lever style handles. The reason is that they are much easier to press on and to handle, especially if you suffer from arthritic hands.

You can see a collection of lever handles here…

  • Door handles
  • Shower handles
  • Faucet handles

14. Hallway

I have often recommended grab bars along hallways for seniors with mobility, balance issues and/or physical limitations.

15. Making The Bed Safer

Making it easier to get into and out of bed as well as preventing falling out of bed is an absolute must (in my opinion) when it comes to home modification for aging in place.

This could include:

Whether you are an older adult looking to make the home modifications needed to age in place safely or you are a caregiver helping a senior loved one to stay in their home or perhaps moving into your home – all these recommendations will help to make the living spaces safer.

How To Pay For Home Remodeling For Elderly

There are multiple support services by the federal government or local governments that seniors and their families can tap into for financial assistance for these house modifications. Look through these sources for home improvements for elderly adults.

A Reverse Mortgage

For those who plan to stay in their homes, a reverse mortgage can be an excellent option for funding retirement. Senior citizens that have spouses over the age of 62 and are listed as co-borrowers on loan may find this type of financing very useful with regards to securing funds during later years – especially when partnered up!

This may be a good option for low-income seniors.

Financial Loans

Loans for home modifications or a guarantee from banks can be an option, but they require that you pay back the money with interest.

The more creative solution might be to get low-interest loans from organizations such as governmental institutions and government agencies which offer this service because these types of lenders typically have less restrictions on their lending requirements than traditional ones do.

Grants

Home improvement grants are perfect for when you need to make a quick, one-time fix on your home. They come with no strings attached and can help cover the cost of any repairs or renovations needed!

Free Labor

While the idea of free labor sounds like a good deal for homeowners, there are some things to consider. Free work may come with complicated requirements and/or restrictions on how it can be used in your home (i.e., not using materials).

You should also take into account that this assistance does not include any sort of material cost – so if you’re planning an expensive project such as building wheelchair ramps then expect extra funds from elsewhere!

Equipment Loans

Some federal and local organizations offer free, long term loans of home modification materials.

Final Thoughts About Aging In Place

There are many wonderful advantages to aging in place in the home you’ve lived in for many years but there are also some very important downsides to this as well.

For one thing, the house can be as comfortable and safe as possible but if neighbors and friends and family move away or pass away, you may find yourself very lonely in a house that you put a lot of money in.

Being by yourself can have a significant impact on your mental and emotional wellbeing, especially if you’re widowed.

babyboomers.com

So, please consider this as well before you make any changes to your house. And of course, discuss this with your family and friends.

Frequently Asked Questions About Home Modifications For Seniors

What is the safest flooring for aging in place?

The safest flooring for senior loved ones who will age in place depends on multiple factors but generally speaking, a floor that is smooth, has some cushion to it and is non-slip are all features that work well for older adults.This could include flooring such as engineered vinyl planks, cork flooring and low pile carpeting.

Will Medicare pay for home modifications?

Unfortunately, Medicare DOES NOT cover any home modification projects. BUT – you can contact the Medicaid department in your state for information because some states’ Medicaid programs DO cover portions of these types of projects if they are prescribed by your physician.

Where to put grab bars in a bathroom?

To get the most out of grab bars in your bathroom we recommend one or two grab bars to be installed by the toilet, up to three in the shower and / or bathtub and anywhere else in the bathroom where someone would need help to balance themselves or to stand up.

Where can seniors get help with home repairs?

There are a variety of agencies and private organizations – local, statewide and federal where seniors can seek help for home repairs.
Check out our resource for a list of these great sources.

Did We Cover All The Information You Were Looking For About Home Modifications For Seniors?

Of course – all homeowners who are planning to age in place will need to assess what home modifications they need for their own specific needs.

But the ones listed above are the most common types of changes that we recommend.

A home assessment by an Occupational Therapist or a Senior Home Safety Specialist will help you to make your own list of what is needed in your home as you grow older in the place that you love.

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