Aging in Place: The Best Choice

A recent study of aging baby boomers shows an overwhelming propensity to remain in their current homes after retirement. Support services, such as healthcare, chore services and transportation enable elders to age comfortably in place. As providers and managers of health care at home, our initial assessment always includes a thorough home safety evaluation.

Consumers who plan to age in place and have the luxury of time to plan for such care, should take proactive steps to modify their homes while they are still financially and physically able. We heartily endorse the following modifications of The National Association of Home Builders:

Bedrooms: There should be at least one bedroom and one bathroom on the first floor. First floor living is a high priority for older adults. Most will soon face difficulty climbing stairs.

Outlets: 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.

Outside Access. 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. Today there are many inexpensive and temporary options.

Inside navigation: There should be extra maneuvering space throughout the home to improve safety. Reducing clutter and widening doors and hallways can make a home more accessible.

Kitchen: 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 in a contrasting color make it much easier for the older person to grasp. Improvements 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.

Bathrooms: 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 provide stability for the older person and prevent falls. Pull down shower heads are our first (and simplest) safety modifications. Falls in the bathroom or on the stairs are the second leading cause of accidents for elders, second only to car 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, canes and wheelchairs.

Lighting: For those who need 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 have neither the ability or preference 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. These changes will significant add to their quality of life and provide a safe and comfortable environment for our staff to provide the best care and support to them when needed.