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Design a beautiful home and set yourself up for successful aging

Most people prefer to age in place. If you have a beautiful home that you love, why leave it? Yet common features in many homes - steep stairs, “classic” plumbing fixtures, even hardwood floors - can actually make life less comfortable, or sometimes even dangerous, as we get older.

Fortunately, we now have many attractive home decor options that are also age-friendly. If you’re remodeling a home, incorporate one of these options to avoid any hassle, additional spending or accidents!

Age-Friendly Bathrooms

The combination of water and tile makes a bathroom an inherently hazardous place, even more so for someone with weakened balance, vision, or flexibility. Yet the sleek, modern aesthetic that is so popular now with polished and lacquered mink floors and minimalist surfaces can be extremely age-friendly. Sink fixtures with a single lever to control both temperature and flow are much easier to use for someone with arthritis than a traditional faucet with two knobs, one for hot and one for cold. Shower enclosures separate from the bathtub not only look more elegant, but also eliminate the need to step over a barrier to enter or exit. And modern toilets not only stand higher off the floor, but also use less water per flush.

Before jumping into a bathroom remodel, use these tips to enhance both aesthetic appeal and comfort:

  1. Select fixtures controlled with levers, not dials.
  2. Eliminate stairs or thresholds whenever possible, including shower enclosures (consider larger enclosures with entry at the side or the back to minimize splashing).
  3. Install a thermostatic fixture for your shower so that you can fix the water temperature at a comfortable level, rather than having to adjust hot and cold every time.
  4. Design a lovely bench for your shower enclosure that’s deep enough to sit on and install an extra hand-held showerhead with a long enough hose to reach your seat. It’s useful now as a place to store extra shampoo bottles, or as a seat if you tear your ACL on the ski slope, and will allow you to continue to shower comfortably even if you lose mobility later on.
  5. Use small tiles with wider grout lines for your bathroom floor, or consider slate flooring rather than smooth marble. A textured floor is less likely to be slippery - a plus for bathroom users of any age.
  6. Install a higher-than-average toilet for easy on and off now and in the future.

Age-Friendly Kitchens

After the bathroom, the kitchen is the room that requires the most modification to make it fully accessible. Lower-than-average countertops (to accommodate a wheelchair user) and an electric rather than gas cooktop (to avoid fire risk) may not be design decisions you want to make. Yet certain things that will keep your kitchen usable as you age also make it more convenient now, for instance:

  • Pull-out or swing-down shelves provide easy access to pots, dishes, or canned goods (they give children access, too!)
  • Side-by-side rather than over-under refrigerator/freezer units mean heavy items can be placed lower down to avoid having to reach up for access.
  • Countertops with open areas below allow people to sit rather than stand at them - including friends for a chat or kids doing homework, in addition to elders who find it physically challenging to stand unsupported.

Age-Friendly Lightings, Doorways and Security

One easy way to ensure a home is comfortable at any age is to make sure you have excellent lighting built in via wall sconces or ceiling fixtures. This helps with eyesight as you get older and minimizes the number of standing lamps, whose trailing power cords can create a fall risk. Don’t forget about lights in closets as well.

Consider designing 36-inch interior doorways rather than the standard 32-inch ones and make sure door hardware is levers rather than round knobs for ease of grip. If possible, eliminate thresholds. If you ever need a wheelchair or a walker, you’ll be able to move easily around your home.

If you have a multi-story home, do you have a place for an elevator? If you don’t need it now, you could make this space a coat closet on the lower floor and a storage closet on the upper floor, but have an easy modification should you need it later. You might also place your luxurious master suite on the ground floor of your new home, with children’s or guest rooms upstairs. Be sure that any stairs at your entryway or within the home have handrails to help those who are a little unsteady on their feet.

Home controls, intercom systems and built-in security systems hardwired to police or fire stations allow you access and control from anywhere in the home and keep you safe in an emergency. Today it’s a convenience to see who’s at your door from anywhere in the house; tomorrow it may be a necessity.

For ideas to inspire your accessible home design, check out Pinterest boards for Aging in Place. Also, ask your contractor if he or she is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), a designation issued by the National Association of Home Builders.

About the Author(s)

As Vice President of Healthcare Strategy and Partnerships, Katie Roper seeks opportunities for Home Care Assistance’s national footprint, consistent high quality care standards, and technology expertise to support leading companies across the healthcare continuum. Katie has spent a decade in the caregiving industry after earlier career success in several Silicon Valley technology startups, and she frequently speaks and writes about the challenges of marrying caregiving and technology. Katie holds a BA from Harvard College and an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

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