More than 80% of those who are 65 and older say they want to stay in their homes as they age. However, only 1% of American homes are conducive to senior living. While more attention is being given to designing homes that will last through all the stages of life, most people will have to make home improvements to increase safety and mobility as they age. Here are some areas to take into consideration:
- Create an unobstructed path to a zero-step, covered entrance. Entry should be well-lit, 36-inches wide to accommodate a wheelchair, with a gradual incline to entry landing. Thresholds should be no higher than half an inch.
- Bathroom showers. The main goal here is to prevent falls. One bathroom should be wheelchair accessible with a curbless walk-in shower. Faucets should be lever-style for easy on and off. Add handlebars, a fold-down seat, a handheld showerhead with a 6-foot hose and a non-slip surface to make showering more convenient and safer.
- Kitchen and laundry. Reachability is the key in these rooms. Vary the counter heights (32-42 inches) and give them a shallower depth. Place upper wall cabinets three inches lower than conventional height. Add pull-out shelves and lazy-susans and consider open shelving for frequently used items. Place the microwave at counter height and consider a side-swing oven door. Add a pedestal under the washer (if front-loader) and dryer to raise it for easier access.
- Floor plan. The open design layout presents fewer hallways to navigate and allows more flexibility for furniture positioning. A single story with no steps is ideal, but if that’s not possible, be sure to have a bedroom, bathroom, and laundry on the main floor. Although smaller homes are a growing trend for all ages, make sure there is space for easy mobility, even with a wheelchair.
- More light for reading and other tasks. Windows need to be low-maintenance and easy to open and close. Place task lighting in the kitchen and reading and desk areas. Move light switches so they can be reached while sitting and replace them with rocker or touch switches.
- Include spaces for connecting with nature and interacting with neighbors. Raised garden beds and wrap-around decks that are level with the main floor offer a therapeutic outlet. Landscaping should be low-maintenance. Carports and garages may need to accommodate raised-roof vans with a 5-foot minimum access aisle between an accessible van and another vehicle.
- Finishing touches. Handrails should be placed anywhere there are stairs, and contrast strips and lighting can help increase the visibility of steps. Give closets and storage spaces adjustable rods and shelves and appropriate lighting. Install easy-to-read programmable thermostats at a height that is reachable while sitting. Prevent slipping and increase chair mobility with smooth, non-glare, slip-resistant flooring. If carpet is used, choose low density with a firm pad.
Making home improvements that allow you to age in your own home are an investment toward your comfort and safety as mobility becomes more difficult. With proper planning, your home can remain your home for many years to come.