Post date: 7/25/2019
A growing number of Americans would like to stay in their home as long as possible. According to AARP, 76% of Americans 50 and older intend to remain in their current home as they age. As more and more people opt to age in place than ever before, staying safe and comfortable in your own home as you age is important. Being proactive with some basic home modifications can help you maintain a level of safety and mobility throughout the years, while adding increased comfort and convenience to your lifestyle.
A good first step in making your home more age-friendly is to make a room-by-room assessment. Go through your home, looking for problem areas like potential tripping or slipping hazards, in addition to areas that are difficult to access and hard to maintain.
It may make sense to hire an experienced contractor to take care of extensive changes, but there are plenty of smaller home modifications that a handyman can easily make—or even a handy homeowner—without making a large investment of time or money. Here’s a look at 15 of the most common and popular home modifications for aging at home, many simple enough to do by yourself:
Getting in and out of the shower or bathtub can become more difficult with age. Many people opt to replace their bathtub with a walk-in shower, which provides safer and easier access, compared to getting in and out of a bathtub.
Falls are common in the bathroom, but they can be prevented. Installing permanent grab bars or railing gives anyone with mobility issues additional support and can help you safely move around. We recommend installing grab bars near the toilet, and in the shower and bathtub, as these surfaces get slippery. Make sure that the shower curtain is not held up by a tension rod, since grabbing it for support may result in a fall.
Secured properly, grab bars take pressure off your knees when rising from the toilet, and offer support when you need something to lean on. And they can be installed nearly anywhere in your home. Make sure your grab bar can hold up to 250 pounds, and install it by screwing it securely into wall studs, not just sheetrock.
A shower or bathtub safety seat offers a rest place and stability if you find yourself having trouble standing for long periods of time. They’re easy and affordable to find. A wheelchair shower platform is a good idea if you’re using a mobility aid, making it easy to get in and out of the bathtub.
If you want to keep your existing bathtub, or cannot afford to replace it, there are inexpensive modifications that can be made to prevent slips and falls in the bathtub. One modification is to add a safety bar to the tub, while another is to install safety strips. Both of these common modifications can help prevent slips and falls in the tub.
Another modification for the bathtub, which is less expensive than replacing the bathtub or shower, is to purchase a bathtub transfer bench, which straddles the side of the tub, enabling you to sit safely on the bench while getting into the tub by lifting each leg, one at a time, over the bathtub wall. Getting into the tub while seated greatly reduces the risk of potentially dangerous slips and falls.
You can make bathing easier in your current shower or tub by adding a handheld shower head in the bathroom. A very convenient option, it can be used along with a shower chair, so you can bathe while sitting down—helpful if you have limited mobility.
Just detach your current showerhead and replace it with a handheld one. Most can be used regularly or pulled down to be used by hand, so it’s handy for everyone. Usually, these shower heads have a hose between three and six feet in length, which makes it easier to use them from various spots—on the shower seat, in the shower, and near the grab bar.
A raised toilet seat can alleviate pain and make it easier to go to the bathroom independently. This can be helpful for those recovering from injury, or those who are living with limited mobility.
Elevating the toilet seat makes getting up and down from the toilet safer and easier. Adding a portable raised toilet seat can be an easy solution. However, it’s also easy to install other types of raised toilet seats, such as bubble type raised seats, adjustable height seats and raised seats with adjustment knobs.
Placing a non-skid mat near toilets and sinks and outside the shower can prevent an accidental fall or slip.
The more space you have in each of your rooms, the better. Especially in rooms you spend the most time in, make sure there are clear pathways and plenty of space to walk in without bumping into anything. Clear pathways greatly reduce the chance of a fall and make navigating through your house much easier. The National Association of Home Builders recommends a five-foot by five-foot clear space in the middle of the living room. That leaves enough room to navigate a wheelchair and get turned around properly with a walker. This is essential, as backing up with a walker can quickly become a fall hazard.
If you want to keep throw rugs for your decor, consider sticking doubled sided tape onto them to keep them in place. Unsecured rugs can slip or bunch, causing a major tripping hazard, especially if you use a cane or walker.
If the carpet is older and shaggy, consider replacing it with new carpeting that has a shorter nap. People are less likely to trip on shorter-nap carpeting, and it’s also more suitable for those who navigate through the home with the use of a walker or wheelchair.
Uncarpeted stairs are often slippery and can be difficult to navigate, posing a serious falling hazard. Applying non-slip tape helps you gain better traction and prevent falls. Additionally, it’s imperative your stairways have a railing on each side.
Lever door handles are much easier to open than traditional round doorknobs, especially if you have arthritis, low hand strength or other conditions that limit motion. Lever handles can prevent undue struggles and are also easier to manage when your hands are full. It’s not difficult to swap out your knob-style door handles for lever-style handles. They’re easy to find and you’ll just need a few simple tools for installing. Adding lever-style handles to bathroom and kitchen faucets also makes them easier to grasp than round doorknobs, as they don’t require a twisting motion.
Survey your home to determine where visibility needs to be improved. “By age 75, most people require twice as much light as the normal recommended standard, and nearly four times as much as a 20-year-old, to see satisfactorily,” explains Dementia Services Development Center. By installing extra lighting throughout your home, you can greatly reduce the chance of accidents, especially in stairways. Providing nice, bright well-lit spaces also eases the mind, while helping to provide a clear understanding of surroundings.
You can easily install motion sensor lights outside the main exits, motion sensor lights for bathrooms or nightlights for hallways is also a good idea, as is under-cabinet task lighting in kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms. Stick-on lights or light tape can be great additions to stairs, along pathways, or other areas of the home that need to be lit up at night.
Rocker style or “push” light switches are easier to operate compared to traditional toggle “flip” switches. They are larger and require less effort to use.
Most outdoor falls can be attributed to uneven surfaces and walkways that are poorly maintained,” according to Smart Cells Cushioning Technology. Installing ramps is a necessary home modification for those that have balance or mobility issues that is well worth the cost in providing greater independence. Threshold ramps create a no-step entry into your home, greatly reducing tripping hazards and allowing easy access for scooters, wheelchairs, walkers and foot traffic. Threshold ramps eliminate small steps and rises throughout the exterior of your home.
Indoor threshold ramps are also recommended if you use a wheelchair. They provide smooth transitions from one surface to another, making it safer to navigate throughout your home. Often constructed of rubber, the threshold ramps are easily adjustable to accommodate the door jamb height or step that is involved in the transition.
Adding ramps to a home’s entry and exits aren’t just for wheelchair access. Even if you don’t use a wheelchair, a ramp eliminates the need to navigate steps—which can make maintaining balance difficult, even with a railing.
Many hot water heaters are set to 140-degrees, yet it’s better to lower the temperature to 120-degrees or lower to improve safety, to reduce the risk of scalding. Faucets should also be properly labeled hot and cold, or color coded with red for hot and blue for cold.
You may not want to move out of your two-story home but consider rearranging the room configuration. To make your home as easy as possible to navigate, consider moving the master bedroom downstairs. When possible, opt for open spaces over narrow hallways and small rooms.
Place phone extensions in every room on a low surface. Carry a cell phone in your pocket, or wear an emergency contact system with a panic button.
These 15 basic home modifications are relatively easy to do and make a huge difference in terms of convenience and safety. Our Helpful Tools contain more tips and tricks for making sure your home is a safe and secure environment for your entire retirement, and additional retirement resources.
Modifying your home is just one of the many steps you can take to make sure you’re set to age successfully in the home you know and love. Continuing care at home programs, including Sun Health At Home®, are designed to keep you independent and happy in your home for as long as possible by providing the support services you need. With the help of a personal Wellness Coordinator available 24/7, Sun Health At Home members can enjoy their lifestyle on their terms. In contrast to long-term care insurance plans, Sun Health At Home is more comprehensive and cost-effective, protecting your assets from rising health care costs.
Attending a free seminar or contacting one of our friendly membership coordinators are easy ways to get your aging in place questions answered, and a great way to see how Sun Health At Home can fit in to your retirement plans.
Sun Health At Home Member, Sara Dean explains, “I love my home, and I don’t want to leave it. I plan to stay here as long as I can. Knowing I will be taken care of for the rest of my life gives me a great sense of security.”