Updated November 17, 2023 – There’s no doubt that aging in place in a multi-story home will present some challenges for someone as they age.
I am currently 65 years old and I want to “retirement proof” my home as much as I can. I’m not alone, AARP ran a study in 2021 and found that 77% of aging adults over 50 preferred to age in place. (01)
But, in order to age in place safely, I know that I need to make some home safety modifications.
As someone who worked as an Occupational Therapist, I know what needs to be done so I’m writing this article to help you out!
The truth is, most homes are not initially designed with aging in place in mind. Especially multi-level homes.
In this guide, we will explore 14 steps to convert a home for elderly adults and make it safer for them as they age in place in the comfort of their home.
To make a two-story house elderly accessible, consider installing a stair lift, ensuring there is a bathroom with safety features on the lower floor, and enhancing lighting in stairways and hallways. It’s beneficial to have a bedroom on the main floor, install ramps and secure railings, and consider an emergency call system, with a professional assessment recommended for personalized modifications.
14 Modifications For Aging In Place In A Home
With a growing number of older adults living independently, it’s increasingly important to make sure that they’re safe at home. Falls, burns, and poisonings are among the most common accidents involving older people…healthinaging.org
So, how do you make a two story house elderly accessible?
The following steps outline some important considerations and modifications that can be made to a two-story house in order to support aging in place.
1. Accessibility and Mobility Issues:
- First Floor Living: If possible, create first-floor bedroom suites, a full bathroom, and kitchen should be accessible on the main floor.
- No-Step Entry: Have at least one stairless entry to the house. A flat landing outside that’s sheltered from the weather, with a flush threshold or one no higher than 1/4 inch if it’s beveled or 1/2 inch if it has tapered sides.
- Wider Doorways and Hallways: Doorways and hallways should be wheelchair accessible. This means they should be at least 36 inches wide. (02)
- Variable Height Counters: Variable height counters, also known as adjustable height counters, are a type of counter design that allows for the height of the countertop to be easily adjusted according to the user’s needs. With the push of a button or turn of a crank, these counters can be raised or lowered, providing accessibility and comfort for all users. (perfect in offices)
- Variety of Kitchen Counter Heights: Having a few different kitchen counter heights can make it much easier to access kitchen areas whether you are standing or sitting on a stool or a wheelchair.
Before we made the decision to widen our doorways, my wife, Margaret, struggled daily with her walker. The decision to adapt our home to Margaret’s needs by widening the doorways has been a game-changer. I would highly recommend this modification to anyone facing similar challenges with mobility issues.Stephen S.
2. Accessible Bathroom Design:
- First Floor Bathroom: If possible, add or modify a bathroom on the main floor. Bathroom safety is extremely important for aging-in-place designs.
- Wheelchair Accessible Sink: A wheelchair accessible sink is a specially designed basin that is set at a lower height with clear space underneath, allowing an individual in a wheelchair to easily approach and use it without obstruction.
- Walk-In Showers: Install or convert your shower stall to a curbless walk-in shower or low-threshold showers. Install grab bars and seating. Adding a handheld showerhead on a sliding rail is an excellent tool for ease and safety.
- Accessible Bathtubs: Bathtub lifts or walk-in tubs are options for those who prefer a bath over a shower.
- Non-slip Mats: A very important part of a senior-friendly bathroom are non-slip mats and non-slip flooring.
- Higher Toilets: Use higher toilet seats for comfort and safety. A bidet toilet or add-on can also be very helpful for older adults.
- Grab Bars: Add grab bars throughout the bathroom as needed. (03) Make sure they are angled appropriately for you, this is especially important if you suffer from arthritis.
3. Stair Safety:
- Stair Width: Stairs should be wide enough for a stairlift chairs or for one person to help another, with treads at least 11 inches deep and risers 4 to 7 inches high. Additional handrails and proper lighting can enhance safety.
- Stair Lifts or Elevators: Consider installing a stair lift or a home elevator if stairs become a challenge. Stairlift chairs can be expensive but worth it if you have or develop mobility issues.
- Proper Lighting: Ensure stairs are well-lit. Read more tips on stair safety here.
- Non-slip Stair Steps: Add stair treads or non-slip strips to the stair steps to prevent slips and falls.
- Colored Step Edges: Add a colored tape strip or paint to the edge of your steps for better visibility.
- Handrails: Having handrails on both sides of the stairs is an excellent and inexpensive way to make stairs safer.
4. Senior Friendly Bedrooms:
- First-Floor Master Bedroom Suite: If possible, having the master bedroom on the first floor (or main level) can help to prevent many mobility issues as you grow older.
- Bedroom Emergency Call System: Install an emergency call system in the bedroom, within easy reach from the bed, for added safety and peace of mind.
- Lower Bed Height: Lower the height of the bed for easier access.
- Lots Of Lighting: Again, ensure there is adequate lighting in the bedroom, especially around the bed and any pathways leading to the bathroom.
- Accessible Furniture: Choose furniture with rounded corners and ensure it is securely placed to avoid accidents. Furniture should also be the appropriate height to support seniors in sitting down and standing up with ease.
- Emergency Supplies: Keep a flashlight, a list of emergency contacts, and any necessary medications in an easily accessible spot in the bedroom.
- Ample Lighting: Our vision decreases as we age. It’s extremely important to add and use lighting throughout the house, especially in hallways and stairways. (04)
- Motion Sensor Lights: Consider installing motion sensor lights for added convenience and safety.
- Smart Home Lighting Systems: Invest in a smart home lighting system that can be controlled remotely or with voice commands.
- Outdoor Lighting: Don’t forget about lighting up the patio, driveway and walkways as well.
- Automatic Lighting: Lights on timers and dusk to dawn lights are great ways to add lighting throughout the house.
The new lighting has breathed fresh life into my space, making my home feel warm, inviting, and secure. It’s such a simple change, but it’s had a profound impact on my confidence and comfort in my own home.Grace A.
- Non-Slip Flooring: Use non-slip, even and hazard-free flooring throughout the house to prevent trips and falls.
- Throw Rugs: Avoid using rugs, but if necessary, secure them with non-slip pads.
- Contrasting Colors: Use contrasting colors between floors and stairs to help visually impaired individuals navigate more easily.
- Avoid Thick Carpeting: Short-cut pile carpeting is safer for anyone using a mobility aide like a cane, walker or wheelchair.
- Remove Any Blocks: Unified plane flooring without thresholds or steps, using non-glare, slip-resistant materials.
7. Window Accessibility:
- Easy-to-Open Windows: Replace difficult-to-open windows with easier options that can be operated without reaching over furniture or obstacles.
- Lever Handles: Replace window locks with lever handles or easier-to-use mechanisms.
- Easy-to-Operate Window Coverings: Use blinds or curtains that are easy to open and close, such as those with pull cords or automated options.
8. Kitchen Accessibility:
- Accessible Countertops: Ensure that kitchen countertops are accessible and at a comfortable height. Consider installing pull-out shelves in lower cabinets for easier access.
- Pull-down Shelves: Use pull-down shelves in upper cabinets to make items more accessible.
- Pull-Out Pantry: Install a pull-out pantry for easy access to items without having to reach high or bend down low.
- Senior-friendly Appliances: Choose appliances that are easy on your joints, with controls and displays you can read and use without stretching or stooping, and place them where you can reach them comfortably to make your daily tasks as effortless as possible. (05)
- Touchless Faucet: Install touchless or single-lever faucets to make turning water on and off easier. This can work very well for older adults with arthritis in their hands.
- Drawer Dishwasher: Consider drawer dishwashers, which are easier to load and unload.
9. General Home Safety:
- Expanded Doorways: A minimum width of 32 inches is recommended to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. This is much needed for seniors with mobility issues.
- Offset Hinges: Specially designed hinges enable doors to swing away from the frame, widening the entryway by several inches to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs without the need for extensive construction.
- General Maintenance: Keep the home in good repair, including checking smoke detectors and other safety equipment regularly.
- Flexible and Adaptable Spaces: Spaces that can be easily adapted for different uses, such as guest rooms, hobby areas, or offices that can later serve as bedrooms or accommodate caretakers.
- Lever Door Handles: Replace traditional round doorknobs with lever-style handles that are easier to grip and use. Especially true for anyone with arthritic hands.
- Accessible Emergency Exits: Make sure all emergency exits are easily accessible and not blocked.
- Fire Extinguishers and Fire Blankets: Keep fire extinguishers and fire blankets in key areas such as the kitchen, and ensure seniors know how to use them.
- Emergency Contact List: Keep a list of emergency contacts and important medical information in an easily accessible place.
- Secure Loose Wires and Cords: Secure loose wires and cords to prevent trips and falls.
- Rocker Light Switches: Use rocker light switches, which are easier to use than traditional toggle switches.
10. Technology For Aging-In-Place
- Alexa and/or Google Home Devices: These days, it’s easy enough to add and use smart devices like Alexa or Google Home to help keep you connected to others, keep you safer and alert you to news, weather and much more. Read our articles on Alexa and Google Home.
- Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and test them regularly.
- Security Features: Cameras on doors and outdoor areas are important for any residence.
- Emergency Response System: Have an emergency response system in place.
11. Your Outdoor Space:
- Avoid trips and falls: Repair any uneven surfaces, cracks, or holes in pathways and driveways. Consider using non-slip materials for pathways and patios.
- Reduce or eliminate steps: Create ramps or gentle slopes in place of steps where possible. Creating step free entrances can be extremely important in senior friendly homes.
- Handrails are important outside too: Install railings along stairs and ramps.
- Shade and Sun Protection: Install awnings, pergolas, or umbrellas to provide shade.
12. Community and Support:
- Community Ties: Maintain strong ties with the community and have a support system in place. Consider joining a local aging in place community group for additional support and resources.
Deciding to join a group at my church was a big deal for me. I’m usually the kind of person who likes to stick to what I know, so the idea of joining a new group was pretty scary. I was nervous about whether I’d fit in and if I could really add anything to the group.
But, I decided to give it a try, and I’m so glad I did. It’s turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. The people in the group are amazing. We all help each other out and lift each other up, which is really special.Lucy
13. Financial Considerations:
- Budgeting: Plan for the costs of modifying the home for aging in place, as well as potential future medical expenses or assisted living costs.
- Insurance Coverage: Check insurance coverage for home modifications and consider long-term care insurance.
- Plan for Future Needs: Make modifications with future mobility needs in mind, even if they are not needed immediately. This can save time and money in the long run.
- Flexibility: Consider creating flexible spaces that can be easily adapted for different uses or needs.
15. Professional Advice:
- Consult with Experts: Consider consulting with aging-in-place specialists or occupational therapists for personalized advice.
These recommendations aim to create a safe, accessible, and comfortable living environment for individuals as they age.
Making these modifications can help ensure that residents can live independently in their homes for as long as possible.
Funding Home Modifications For Seniors
Home modifications for seniors can be costly, depending of course on what needs to be done, but there are several ways to manage these expenses.
Financial assistance programs, such as grants or loans specifically designed for home modifications, can help offset costs. Some non-profit organizations offer support for aging in place modifications.
Check your long-term care insurance benefits to see if they provide any assistance towards home modifications.
It’s also worth considering that while the upfront costs might be significant, these modifications can be a worthwhile investment in the long term, potentially reducing the need for more expensive assisted living facilities.
Moreover, simple changes don’t always have to be expensive; things like improved lighting, grab bars, and non-slip mats can be relatively inexpensive yet significantly improve safety.
Consulting with an occupational therapist or a certified aging-in-place specialist can also provide guidance on making the most cost-effective changes.
In conclusion, aging in place in a multi-level home may present some challenges but it’s not impossible.
There are some problems that have to be overcome, but with careful planning and modifications, it’s possible to create a safe and accessible living environment that meets the changing needs of individuals as they age.
By implementing the recommendations outlined in this article, seniors can maintain their quality of life and continue to enjoy their homes for years to come.
01 – Ratnayake M; LPCMH; ATR; NCC;1; Lukas S, Brathwaite S, Neave J, Henry H; BS-c;5. Aging in Place:: Are We Prepared? Dela J Public Health. 2022 Aug 31;8(3):28-31. doi: 10.32481/djph.2022.08.007. PMID: 36177171; PMCID: PMC9495472.
02 – https://www.nahb.org/ Aging-In-Place Remodeling Checklist n.d.
03 – https://aginginplace.org/a-guide-to-bathroom-grab-bars/ A Guide To Bathroom Grab Bars 17 July 2022
04 – Rosemary Bakker https://blog.aarp.org/notebook/rosemary-bakker-lighting-aging-eyes 5 Lighting Tips for Aging Eyes 23 May 2023
05 – https://aginginplace.org/kitchen-of-the-future-remodeling-for-comfortable-aging-in-place/ Kitchen Of The Future: Remodeling For Comfortable Aging In Place 18 July 2022