Important decisions and home modification
by Casey Hite
February 22, 2018

As a person ages, it’s not uncommon for their mobility to decline. A decline in ease of movement can require lifestyle changes, home modifications or increased care, and seniors—like most people—often want to remain in their homes and maintain their independence for as long as possible.

While limited mobility can be frustrating, it doesn’t necessarily mean that an assisted living facility or nursing home is the only option. With careful planning and strategic modifications, it’s possible to improve the safety and accessibility of the home to allow seniors (or anyone with limited mobility) to live comfortably.

What is aging in place?

According to Living Stone Construction, aging in place is when a person with limited mobility, or who is preparing for lifestyle changes, designs a home in which they can live safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age or ability. In the context of aging in place, any building, design or home modification must account for various details and elements to ensure the home meets the needs of its residents. But the home doesn’t just need to be suitable for its residents to age in place: Its design must meet a caretaker’s needs, as well.

Why does it matter?

For many people, their home is the product of a lifetime of hard work and careful financial planning. It’s where they raised families, hosted holiday gatherings and made memories that they don’t want to part with. For those reasons, many seniors resist the idea of leaving their homes for an assisted living facility or nursing home. And they’re not alone—nearly 90 percent of people age 65 and older want to stay in their homes for as long as possible, and 80 percent believe their current homes are where they will always live.

Thoughtful aging in place design can make aging in place wishes a reality for many.

Home modification and aging in place design can be achieved in many forms and can be applied to most rooms in the house. The goal is to make one’s home safer and more accessible, so a good starting point is to consider each part of the home and what modifications need to be made. For better accessibility, widen hallways and walkways, and complement them with handles or grab bars along walls to support movement. Lighting adjustments can make it easier to see in the home, reducing the likelihood of bumping into or tripping over objects or furniture. Adjusting the placement of cabinets, storage spaces or appliances can allow for easier access. A very popular modification is a curbless or gated shower, which eliminates the need for stepping, climbing or straddling while entering.

How does it help someone remain in their home?

Using home design to support aging in place provides peace of mind for caretakers, seniors and families. Knowing that a loved one is less likely to experience accidents or falls can reduce the need for assisted living arrangements for many families. Even seniors with walkers or wheelchairs, who typically have fewer options, can benefit from thoughtful home modification, and move throughout their home safely and easily.

What are the cost benefits?

In many cases, the cost of aging in place design pales in comparison to the cost of assisted living facilities. In New Jersey, for example, the median monthly assisted living cost is nearly $6,000 per month. That adds up to about $72,000 per year, and if the resident is in assisted living for an extended period of time—say 15 years—that’s about $1.1 million. A recent program in Baltimore, Maryland, called Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders (CAPABLE) found that $4,000 is enough to make significant aging in place modifications to one’s home. For that initial investment, families can cover safety and mobility upgrades like raised toilet seats, ramps, improved lighting, extra stair bannisters, shower seats, lower kitchen counters and more. That’s a significant long-term improvement for less than the cost of one month of assisted living.

When should people consider modification?

Seniors aren’t the only demographic who should consider home modification as a way to live comfortably and safely. In fact, aging in place home design should be a consideration for homeowners of all ages, especially for those who may have limited mobility or physical abilities. Some may even want to consider home modification if they hope to live in the same house for the rest of their lives, as it gives them flexibility to age without leaving the comfort of home in the future.

Which types of furniture are friendlier for aging in place home design?

When it comes to home design, general product safety is just as important to consider as what makes the most sense for seniors’ mobility needs and physical condition. For example, a lower sofa might make it easier to use, but is it fire-safe? Is it free of harmful chemicals? Will the fabric irritate sensitive skin? Ideally, the answer to all of these questions is “no.”

A home should be accessible, but remember: Aging in place design is also about safety.

  • Make sure to avoid lead-based paints, and look for labels on furniture stating that it does not contain flame retardant chemicals.
  • Understand loved ones’ personal needs and sensitivities, and take those into consideration during the planning stages of a home redesign.
  • Which rooms require more attention than others?

Updated design is most important in areas of the house that are used the most often. For many people, the most important rooms will be the master bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen. All of these rooms should be on the first floor for ease of access. Widened corridors between these areas are also vital, as they will enable the homeowner to move throughout his or her home with comfort, confidence and dignity.

Conclusion

Life is full of important decisions, and one of them, at any age, is finding a suitable home. Last year, there were over 108 million Americans over the age of 50, and this number is expected to grow by another 10 million by 2020. Many of those seniors will prefer to age in their homes, which for most is not only cost-efficient, but the more comfortable option. Strategic design can enhance a home’s safety and accessibility at a significantly lower cost than assisted living facilities. While it’s important for seniors, it’s worth remembering that aging in place is not only for seniors: many people with limited mobility—regardless of age—can benefit from thoughtful home design.