Making Your Home Safe for Aging in Place

In years past, retirees and seniors looked forward to downsizing and perhaps living a life of leisure in a retirement community. Now, the trend has swung to people wanting to remain in their family homes. 

By the year 2030, the U.S. population of those ages 65 and up will grow to approximately 17 million and an estimated 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older. But many homes aren’t ready.

“Only 1% of homes in the United States are conducive to aging in place, however, more than 75% of older Americans want to stay in their homes for as long as possible,” states the United Disabilities Services (UDS) Foundation.

“Older homes don’t always meet the needs of older Americans,” claims a U.S. Census Bureau in a report that reviews the number of homes containing aging-accessible features, along with households with older adults experiencing difficulty using some aspect of their home. 

Although we’re in better physical condition and tend to live longer than previous generations, we still have the normal challenges of aging, such as mobility and vision issues.

What is Aging in Place?

Aging in Place is defined as planning to live in your own home and maintain an independent lifestyle throughout your later years rather than in assisted living or retirement community.

Homes can be modified or remodeled to incorporate Aging in Place features. They can also be built or added on to with adaptive features. This architectural trend is known as Universal Design, a specialty that offers comfort and safety to all people without the need for functional changes or adaptation. Incorporating Universal Design principles into a remodel or construction project ensures that your future needs are taken into consideration during the design/build process.

What are the Risks for Older Americans?

More than 25% of adults over the age of 65 report trouble using a feature of their home. At age 85, that number increases to almost 50%. Steps and stairways are the most common problem areas, followed by bathrooms. “More than half of bathroom injuries are directly related to using the shower and getting in and out of the bathtub,” claims the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Installing simple fixes like handrails, grab bars and shower seats can help reduce this safety risk.

Approximately 30 million older Americans fall each year—about one fall each second of the day. And one in five of those falls result in serious injury, with direct medical costs totaling more than $50 million annually. Seven million people have trouble living on their own, and almost four million have difficulty bathing or dressing themselves.

How Can You Modify Your Home for Aging in Place?

Planning for your future is never easy because you don’t know how your needs are going to change as you age. So how can you make your home easier to live in?

  • Bathrooms: Add grab bars, curb-less shower entries, and comfort-height toilets to improve access and safety.
  • Stairs: Add a ramp to outside entrances and perhaps a chair lift when stairs become difficult.
  • Lighting: Ensure that lighting is brighter. Install motion-activated lights for hallways, and lighted switches to make them easier to find.

Not all changes need to be made at once. They can be implemented gradually or as needs change. Some of the simpler adjustments you can make to your home can include:

  • Handrails along indoor and outdoor steps
  • Grab bars in showers and alongside toilets
  • Anti-scald temperature controls
  • Changing doorknobs to levers
  • Automatic lights
  • Removing small rugs that could be tripping hazards
  • Ramps to outside entrances
  • Nonskid flooring

Other alterations can include:

  • Adjusting electrical outlets to an easier-to-reach height
  • Widening doorways & hallways (36” minimum)
  • Replacing a fold-down oven door with a double door side-opening oven
  • Reconfiguring the kitchen by lowering the cooktop, and installing pull-out shelves in lower cabinets

For more major changes like renovations or new construction, talk to a professional builder or design/build remodeler. Ask if that company has a Universal Design Certified Professional (UDCP) or other senior-specialist designer on staff. Someone with this specialized training can help you make the correct choices for your individual needs.

There are People Who Can Help

To increase the viability of remaining in your home, speak to an Aging in Place specialist whose training makes them uniquely qualified to help:

  • CAPS – Certified Aging in Place Specialist. Their skills include solutions to common barriers, Aging in Place home modifications, common remodeling projects.
  • SRES – Senior Real Estate Specialist®. This is a special designation for Realtors® who want to be able to meet the needs of maturing Americans when buying or selling a home, or Aging in Place instead of downsizing or making other moves.

To live successfully in their home throughout their lifetime is a goal of many Americans. With the right modifications, you too can enjoy the independence and control over your personal life in a healthier, safer, and more familiar living environment.


Additional Resources:

Act III: Your Plan for Aging in Place. Published by the National Aging in Place Council (NAIPC), https://www.ageinplace.org/Portals/0/pdf/aging_in_place_planning_guide_final_8-14-1.pdf

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