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How to Make Age-Friendly Home Improvements for Design and Comfort

Gina Roberts-Grey

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For over two decades, Gina Roberts-Grey has pored over studies and interviewed leading health experts on topics ranging from healthy aging to caregiving and longevity. Having been an active caregiver to her grandparents who lived into their 90’s, Gina is passionate about supporting caregivers through their journeys. Her work has been featured in publications like Woman's Day, AARP, Oprah, Neurology Now and many more.

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7 Ways to Re-Design Your Home to Promote Independence as you age

Regardless of your age, size or ability, everyone benefits when living environments are accessible, usable and convenient. If you’re planning a remodeling project, get started today. As you age and become more frail, it becomes more challenging to remodel and design the home of your dreams.

Age-friendly home improvements can create a safe home that enhances quality of life by improving ease of use, access and maneuvering, says Amanda Hart, Licensed Interior Designer at Robb & Stucky Furniture in Boca Raton, FL.

Here are some fundamental conditions of a good home design for aging.

Clear the floors

One of the easiest—and least expensive—modifications is making sure all walkways and high-traffic areas are free of trip hazards. [1]

To ensure you have clear floors, Hart recommends removing all throw and area rugs. Rugs can create accidents or falls in the home. Removing floor coverings can also benefit those who use a wheelchair.

“Wheelchairs and walkers need to glide. And that occurs more easily if you replace carpeting and area rugs with tile, wood, vinyl or other smooth flooring.” Per her recommendation, try to avoid shiny or smooth surface flooring, and instead install one that provides more traction.

Light it up

To further reduce the risk of tripping, particularly in the evening or at night when getting a late night snack or making a trip to the bathroom, Hart suggests adding a variety of lighting tools.

Wall timers can eliminate the need to remember to turn on table lamps, while switches with built-in timers can help illuminate exterior walkways and entrances should you be out late or during winter months filled with limited daylight. “Traditional flip light switches can also be swapped for those that are either touch- or motion-activated,” she adds.

Not sure your room is bright enough?

Go to various corners in each room in your home and look around. If you can’t clearly see a path to all the other corners, you might need to increase the illumination in the space.

Switch to a standing shower or walk-in tub

“The bathroom is one of the most accident-prone areas in the home,” says Hart. It can also be one of the most uncomfortable.

If you’re considering updating an old bathroom, or simply wanting to make yours more age-friendly for the years to come, Hart suggests replacing your traditional toilet with one that features a comfort seat height toilet between 17 and 19 inches high. “That requires less bending down and makes getting up easier, too,” she says.

Jim Kabel at award-winning design and remodeling firm Case Design/Remodeling in San Jose, CA suggests once again considering slip and fall traps that might exist in the bathroom.

Along with removing the shower mat or throw rug, he recommends incorporating a walk-in bathtub or a curbless walk-in shower to make it easier to enter and leave the shower should injuries or illness impair your ability to navigate taller steps. “Standing showers are very chic and reduce the risk of tripping and falling as stepping over the edge of a traditional tub gets more dangerous with age,” he explains. Shower stalls with no threshold also allow a walker or wheelchair to enter the shower, should that be necessary as you age. [1, 2]

For about $250, according to Metlife’s Aging in Place workbook, you can also install grab bars in the shower to provide added stability and halt a fall should you get dizzy or slip on a soapy shower floor. “Place a grab bar by toilet the toilet, too, for ease of motion and to provide support,” adds Hart.

And don’t forget to add a nightlight for those frequent, night-time bathroom visits. [1]

Opt for lower kitchen counters

Today you may be able to stay at the counter and prepare your favorite meal, but down the line, you might need to access kitchen counters from a seated position. [2] “Switching to 30″ counters allows for food preparation and clean-up using a wheelchair or even a kitchen chair should you require a break from standing,” says Kabel.

There are other kitchen modifications that facilitate aging-in-place that are barely noticeable from a design aspect. [2] “Consider a wall oven that reduces the need to bend down to retrieve hot items,” he adds.

Be kind to arthritic fingers that might have difficulty twisting knobs by replacing them with lever faucets and door handles. “Those are generally easier to use and require less grip. In kitchen sinks and bathrooms, single lever handle faucets require less effort, than separate hot and cold knobs,” adds Hart.

Open up doorways

If you’re building a new home or doing a major home renovation, consider increasing the width of doorways from the typical 30” to 32”. According to Kael, wider doorways can allow for ease of use of wheelchairs and walkers. A simpler tweak is removing the molding from the bottom of doorways to help wheelchairs glide more easily through.

Harden up

Hart says she always advises older clients to replace soft, comfy, cushy sofas and chairs with firm, tight seating options with higher arms. That makes it easier to stand-up and sit down as you age.

Sleep lower

Hart says getting in and out of bed could become a challenge as you age. But lowering the bed may be the right solution. “A standard box spring is 9-inches high, but you can purchase a low-profile option which is only five inches high making it easier to get on and off the mattress.”

Sources:

[1] Interview with Amanda Hart

[2] Interview with Jim Kabel

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