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Aging in Place: A Real Choice

By Helen Hunter, ACSW, CMSW

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As people age, they may be faced with making the decision as to whether to move out of their existing home where they have raised family. Too often, these homes are not conducive to the physical challenges that elders may face in their advancing years. A recent study of aging baby boomers shows an overwhelming propensity to remain in their current homes after retirement. As a result, many home builder and housing associations throughout the country are organizing educational activities to highlight programs and support services, such as healthcare, chore services and transportation, which will enable elders to age comfortably in place.

Consumers who plan to age in place should take proactive steps to modify their homes while they are still financially and physically able. The National Association of Home Builders recommends the following modifications:

There should be at least one bedroom and one bathroom on the first floor. First floor living is a high priority for older adults. Having a full bath and a master bedroom on the main floor makes it easier for those who have trouble climbing stairs.

There should be conveniently located and easy to use controls and handles. Raised electrical outlets, electrical switches positioned slightly lower, and thermostats with large, easy to read numbers are perfect for older people.

Installing lever handles makes it easier for people with arthritis to open doors.

There should be no-step entrances. Having at least one entry without steps creates easier access for everyone, regardless of ability. It may be appropriate to install a wheelchair ramp in at least one entrance as well.

There should be extra maneuvering space throughout the home. Wider doors and hallways can make a home more accessible.

There should be drawers instead of shelves in the lower kitchen cabinets, which would accommodate a person in a wheelchair. In addition, shelves under the kitchen sink and stovetop can be converted from storage space to knee space for those who prefer to clean and cook while seated. Changing knobs on the kitchen cabinets to D-shaped pulls that are a contrasting color to the cabinet doors make it much easier for the older person to grasp. Changes to the sink area can include changing the faucet to the single-handle lever type and installing an extra-long hose for the faucet sprayer. This would allow the older person to fill large pots that are sitting on the stove.


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