Understandably, it would be difficult to find the perfect home for aging in place. However, covering the bases for what most people experience as they age is a good place to start. Regardless of whether you remodel, buy or build, these are possible issues you might want to be mindful of when evaluating the features you want in your home. As a bonus, we’ve also included some specific ideas for home features for each. This list is by no means “all inclusive;” merely a few general conditions to get you thinking in the right direction.
Canes, Walkers & Wheelchairs
Certainly no one wants to think about needing help to get around their home. The reality is, however, that the older you get the greater the chance you will need at least some assistance. Finding the right home or properly planning home remodeling can allow you to more safely maneuver around.
- Are entrance doors at least 36″ wide and interior doors a minimum of 32″ wide? (Needed for wheelchair and walker access.)
- Are rooms designed so as not to impede passage? (Features such as sunken rooms, hallways that may be difficult to navigate or ornamental fixtures that are hard to get around.)
- Also, give thought to new or existing flooring; high-pile carpeting, area rugs or flooring that has a slippery surface can be trip & fall hazards.
Balance & Standing
As people grow older, physical issues caused by lack of muscle strength, equilibrium and other conditions begin to appear. Making accommodations that prepare for these will help you stay in your home longer. Two areas where standing occurs regularly are bathrooms and kitchens.
- Is there sufficient space given the room design for grab bars?
- Will the space allow for turning if you install a roll-under sinks? (These can be used for wheelchairs or other chairs) Are counters at the proper height in these areas?
- Regardless of the room, ensure there are ample places to provide chairs or benches while you perform regular tasks.
Bending & Reaching
No matter what your age, bending and reaching can be an issue. For older folks it is a common problem. The best approach to helping the situation is to keep as many things needed for your daily life within easy reach. Areas of the home that are more prone for this to be an issue such as the kitchen, laundry room and bedrooms (especially closets) should be looked at closely.
- Are there sufficient cabinets (at the proper height) and counter space to reduce bending and reaching?
- Would it be necessary to install under cabinet, roll-out shelves or pull-down shelves?
- Are closets sufficiently sized for closet organizing systems?
As people grow older, many of them experience a reduction in hearing. Though there are many modifications you can make to your home to help with this, when remodeling or buying keep in mind that older people have a more difficult time hearing phone ringers, doorbells and alarms of any kind.
- Are there sufficient telephone jacks in the house? (Commonly used rooms should have them … the closer the ring, the more likely to be heard.)
- Are there smoke/CO2 alarms in the proper rooms? (You always can replace older models with ones that have visual indicators or louder alarms. Having them in the right rooms is the first step.)
- Also, keep in mind that voices through doors are difficult to hear. Having a window in/near entrance doors is a good idea and very important for safety.
Grasping & Holding Items
Most people have a more difficult time grasping and holding items as they grow older. Opening drawers or doors, holding items that may be heavy and any fixture that requires holding and turning to operate need to be given thought.
- Do cabinet drawers and doors have “D” shaped handles?
- Are door knobs lever-handled?
- Are there sufficient flat spaces such as counter tops, tables or benches in areas where you will be working or where you may have to juggle carrying a load while performing a task?
- Do all faucets have lever handles
Understanding that these abilities may diminish over time will help you make good choices when making decisions on features you would like to have in your home such as hardware, appliances and fixtures. Also, when planning your new space (whether you remodeled or bought) take special care to choose products that will assist with these issues. Items that are universally designed (for use by people of all abilities) can be of great help such as home accessories, kitchen aides and phones.
Diminished eyesight is a condition most older people face at some point. This can hinder a person from getting around in their home, using their appliances and make every day tasks more difficult.
- Is there sufficient light in every room and work area? Ensuring proper or additional lighting is one of the best (and inexpensive) things you can do for yourself if you have difficulty seeing.
- Are floor transitions easily distinguishable? Having contrasting colors at floor transitions will make them easier to see.
- Do appliances have large displays or text? Choosing models that do will make doing chores much easier and reduce the chance of error.
As stated in the previous section, given the fact that this condition will most likely occur can help you as you plan and purchase items for your remodeled or new home space.
Sitting & Lying Down
For the same reasons mentioned in Balance & Standing, sitting and lying down can be an issue for older people. Actually, the issues are with getting safely down and back up again.
- Does the home have plenty of open space where couches or chairs may be to accommodate assitive devices needed for safely sitting and standing? (Walkers are a good example of these.)
- What about in bedrooms? Is there sufficient space to enter or exit a bed if you are using a walker and/or bed safety rails?
- Is the bathroom designed to allow for installation of grab bars?
As always, you also may wish to consult with your physician or Occupational Therapist to discuss your options for walking, sitting or standing assistance.