More and more seniors are choosing to remain independent as long as possible and age in place rather than move to an assisted living facility. More than 60 percent of homeowners ages 55 and older said they would prefer to age in place. Fortunately, there are a variety of home remodeling strategies that can help them accomplish that goal.
The first step is to address the specific needs of the person who will be living in the house. If they use a wheelchair or mobility scooter to get around, the design should make a point of accommodating the device. That could mean extra–wide doorways, ramps at the house entrances and enough open space in each room so that the user can turn around—for a wheelchair, that is about a 60–inch turning radius. Here are some other general tips:
Provide enough natural and artificial light to keep the home bright, especially for someone who has poor or failing eyesight. Light levels should be higher than a younger person may require. Also, keep the level of light constant, avoiding dark or shadowy spots. It takes an older person longer to adjust to changes in light levels, so traveling from a bright area to a dark area can be dangerous. Move light switches to lower, more accessible levels so that seniors do not have to reach up high to turn on a light.
Eliminate slipping and tripping hazards, such as throw rugs and slippery floor tiles.
It is easier to see shapes and surfaces when a room has a contrasting color scheme for the walls, floors and furniture.
For safety, replace standard smoke and carbon monoxide detectors with those that provide a louder alarm.
Install a peephole in the front door so that the person answering the door can see who is waiting outside. There are also digital models available that send an image of the visitor to a dedicated screen or a smartphone. Some include motion sensors that indicate someone is outside before the visitor rings the bell.
Kitchen Remodeling Guidelines
There are a number of senior–friendly strategies to employ when remodeling a kitchen.
Cabinets. Use cabinet and drawer pulls that are easy to grasp, such as levers or D–shaped pulls. Employ open shelving whenever possible. To avoid having the senior bend down, install base cabinets that have slide–out drawers rather than fixed shelves.
Appliances. The controls for all appliances should be large and easy to read. Electric cooktops and ranges should have indicator lights that signal when the surface is hot even when the controls are turned off. All cooking appliances should have controls on the front of the appliance so that the user does not have to reach over the cooking area. Refrigerators with bottom–mounted freezers eliminate the need to bend over to see what is in the main refrigerator cabinet. Pick refrigerators with wide adjustable shelves on the door for storing often–used items.
Sinks. If the person uses a wheelchair or scooter, provide an open area under the sink so that they can roll up to use the sink. The sink should be at a comfortable working height. Install hands–free faucets or faucets with lever–shape controls for easy use.
Lighting. In addition to bright, glare–free general lighting, provide task lights above all working surfaces. Lights installed on the bottom of wall cabinets can light countertops. Hanging or ceiling fixtures can provide task lighting for islands. A hanging fixture over a table equipped with a dimmer allows the user to lower the light while eating and increase it when working on a task at the table.
Bathroom Remodeling Guidelines
A bathroom remodel can have a significant positive impact on a senior's comfort and safety. If possible, try to place a bathroom near where the senior spends most of their time. The goal is to have them avoid using the stairs as much as possible.
Tubs and showers. Because of the potential for a fall, it is important to pay attention to the bathing area. Tubs and showers should be outfitted with grab bars to provide stability. Plan on a grab bar installed vertically near the entrance to the tub or shower, as well as grab bars installed horizontally at a comfortable height along the back and side walls. Handheld or adjustable–height showerheads are easier to use than a fixed showerhead. An anti–scald tub or shower faucet prevents the user from getting burned when there is a change in water temperature. Other tub and shower strategies include adding:
Lights designed for wet areas installed in the ceiling above the tub or shower
Shower or tub chairs
Storage shelves for shampoo and the like inside the tub or shower area
Showers without thresholds, called roll–in showers, for people who use a wheelchair
Non–slip surfaces for tub and shower floors
Sinks and vanities. Wall–mounted sinks are convenient for someone in a wheelchair. Use lever–type handles on the faucet that are easier to grab than knob handles.
Toilets. A seat extender on a standard toilet makes it easier to sit down or stand up. New toilets should conform to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Manufacturers usually list if their products are ADA compliant.
Whether you are making the changes yourself or working with someone to accomplish your goals, remodeling a home to fit the requirements of the person who lives there can provide a safe and comfortable environment.
Fran Donegan is a home improvement author who writes on appliances, lighting and home–related topics online for The Home Depot. Fran is the author of the books Pools and Spas and Paint Your Home. To research ceiling fan options available through Home Depot, you can visit the website here.