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
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
Bathrooms should be equipped with safety features. One of the most
important rooms in the house to design correctly in order to allow
homeowners to age in place is the bathroom. Grab bars, a bath chair
and a raised toilet seat can provide stability for the older person
and prevent falls. Falls in the bathroom or on the stairs are the
second leading cause of accidents for elders, just behind automobile
accidents. It would be prudent to invest in enlarging at least one
bathroom in the home. A larger bathroom makes maneuvering easier for
people with walkers, crutches and wheelchairs.
For those who have to handle daily climbing of stairs, it is very
important to have proper lighting on stairways. Eyesight changes as
people age. Most of the older homes don’t have adequate lighting on
stairways. Therefore, installing lights with adjustable controls, or
dimmers, can help prevent glare and ensure proper lighting. Task
lighting is also preferred for cooking, reading and shaving, while
softer light is appropriate for night trips to the bathroom.
There are some elders who will choose to move to a new home when
they retire, many of which will have a number of the above features
in place. Many others, however, will not have the ability to make
such a move, for a number of reasons. By planning ahead, and making
some home modification changes now, elders can choose to remain in
their home, comfortable in their surroundings, aging in place,
maintaining their independence and dignity.
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