Find out how to remodel a home to make it safe and comfortable for aging adults to live in.
- Studies have shown that most adults prefer to grow old at home.
- Modern advancements and technology have made it possible for more people to age in place.
- There are several changes you’ll need to make to a home before it can be friendly for those with decreased mobility. These include updating the security system, widening the doorways, removing rugs that can be tripped over, and installing easy-access light switches and grab bars.
- Medical alert devices and remote activity monitoring services can give aging adults and their families peace of mind.
COVID-19 saw the entire world cooped up in their houses under hard lockdown, and you’d expect that most people would get sick of being boxed in, but no—home is still where the heart is.
At least this is what a new survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) proves. Data from this study has revealed that nearly 80% of adults older than 50 want to remain in their homes.
But before you can grow old at home, some changes need to be made for safety and comfort.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that falls are common among aging adults.
36 million falls happen among aging adults in the U.S. each year, resulting in over 32,000 deaths. In addition, 300,000 hospitalizations occur due to hip fractures.
Research also shows that 79.2% of falls happen at home, so it’s very important to consider remodeling if you’re serious about you or your loved ones aging in place.
In this article, we’ll go into detail about which steps you need to take to make a home safe and sound for aging adults.
What does aging in place mean?
The CDC’s official definition of aging in place is “[t] the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”
Being able to grow old at home provides adults with a sense of comfort and familiarity, but certain changes often need to be made to a house and its surroundings to create an age-friendly environment.
Is aging in place the right choice?
Most adults prefer to age at home, surrounded by people and memories they treasure.
Once a person makes the choice to age-in-place, renovations may need to be done to their home and they may also require assistive devices, as well as health and safety services to make this work.
For people who have the financial resources and the time to prepare, aging in place is a good option—provided their health allows it, of course.
Aging adults with medical conditions that need constant treatment, or those who require additional assistance due to cognitive or physical impairments, may want to abandon the idea of aging in place.
Before deciding whether aging in place is the right choice for you or your loved one, consult your primary health care provider, social worker, or occupational therapist.
You can also speak to a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) to find out which changes they recommend you make to your home to accommodate your needs. More on this later.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of aging in place?
Even though most adults have the desire to stay at home while they age, there are pros and cons to this decision.
Take a look at the list below before you decide whether aging in place is the best option.
|Advantages of Aging in Place||Disadvantages of Aging in Place|
|You’ll save on the costs of nursing homes and assisted living communities.||You may have to do a complete remodel of your home if you want to keep on living there as you get older.|
|You may find it easier to maintain social connections when you remain in a familiar neighborhood with family and friends who have known you for years.||Running a household includes performing routine maintenance and chores that can become more dangerous to do as you grow older.|
|You’re free to customize your home so that you can be as comfortable as possible, while assisted living communities cater to everyone’s general needs.||You may need to answer the door multiple times per day—especially if you live alone and you’re receiving deliveries, or if you’re using cleaning services, etc. This can cause distress and unnecessary disturbances, especially if you’re trying to rest.|
|You’ll preserve your freedom and identity by setting your own routine or schedule.||If you live on your own, your safety may be compromised in the case of an emergency—especially if you don’t wear a medical alert device or have security cameras installed that can help family members to track your movements.|
|There are a variety of services—personal shoppers, housecleaning, home repairs, and more—that you can hire to help you complete tasks at home.||The risk of loneliness may increase when you live alone. This applies in particular to aging adults that are unable to drive or leave the house by themselves.|
|Staying at home is more convenient and less costly than moving elsewhere.||If your mental and physical health declines, this may go unnoticed when you live alone.|
What are the biggest challenges to aging in place?
According to Harvard University’s Joint Center report, the most prevalent challenges facing people who want to age in place include:
- Homes that are not suitable or safe for aging adults with limited mobility.
- Costly long-term care is required by adults who want to age in place.
- Aging adults who are renting their home and can no longer afford it.
- The isolation and loneliness aging adults who live alone often face.
Some of these factors are beyond our control, but with the correct planning and preparation, aging in place is possible.
By following the steps in our checklist below, you’ll be able to solve one of the biggest challenges of aging in place.
Aging in place: how to prepare?
Everything—from the neighborhood where you live to the floor on which your apartment is located—should be carefully considered.
If your mother or father has expressed a desire to age in place, plan a visit. Spending some time in their house will help you understand what they struggle with and where improvements can be made.
For example, if they have trouble reaching the countertop (as they are designed to be waist-high) or they cannot open the faucet due to arthritis, you’ll have to make some improvements.
However, if you are considering making serious changes around the house—for example, widening doorways—consult a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist.
What Does a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) Do?
Certified Aging-in-Place specialists help you design and remodel your home so that it’s fit for aging in place.
They collaborate with other professionals to design an attractive home that will ensure the safety and security of an aging adult.
When you work with CAPS, they’ll make sure your remodeled home complies with building and safety standards.
If you want to find a CAPS near you, contact the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) at 800-368-5242.
Aging in place remodeling checklist
Once you’ve decided to make the necessary changes to your home so that it can accommodate an aging adult, knowing where to begin with the remodeling can feel overwhelming.
Creating a checklist of modifications you want to focus on and listing them by room is a great way to keep track of everything and ensure you don’t go over budget.
Some modifications are more costly than others.
Start with the simple changes first and create a timeline that includes dates for when each renovation needs to be completed.
We’ve created a remodeling checklist for you to use. Everyone’s requirements are different, so it’s unlikely that you’ll need to make all the changes listed below.
Remodeling the outside of your home can be just as important as focusing on the inside.
The exterior of your house should be neat and tidy, and allow you as well as others to gain easy access to the property.
Having a pleasant outdoor space can also encourage aging adults to spend more time outside, which can be good for them.
Carry out an inspection of your property. Are there any broken steps, damage to the roof, or balcony railings that need replacing?
Are your lights still functioning? Outdoor lighting is essential. You can’t afford to be stumbling around in the dark if there’s a nighttime emergency.
Invest in low-maintenance gardens
A lawn that needs to be mowed often or trees that require regular pruning may not be a good idea.
Opt for evergreen plants and flowers like lilies and roses. Grow them in raised garden boxes to avoid having to stoop when tending to them.
Gardening is a great way to stay active and beautify your home at the same time.
Create limited mobility entrances
Older folks often move slower, are prone to falling, experience joint pain and may use walkers and wheelchairs to get around.
Depending on the extent of the mobility issues, you may want to:
- Widen the entrances to porches, patios, and decks.
- Replace stairs with ramps that have handrails or guardrails.
- Create zero-threshold entrances and exits.
- Install nonslip flooring.
Revamp your garage or carport
You may need to create more space in the garage so that wheelchairs and other assistive devices can be accommodated. If the garage houses more than one vehicle, be sure to leave enough room between the cars to allow for easy access.
Nonslip flooring and good lighting will reduce the risk of injuries in the garage.
Garages are often used as storage spaces, so be sure to remove anything that could be a tripping hazard.
If vehicles with taller roofs will be entering your garage—like vans used to transport passengers with wheelchairs—you’ll have to adjust the height of your garage door, too.
A property that’s secured will help aging adults sleep easier at night.
Installing alarms, cameras, and night lights with sensors can help you identify anyone who’s not meant to enter your property.
A gate with an intercom that can be answered from your phone will let you see who’s knocking while you’re lying in bed—some intercom systems even open gates remotely.
Older folks often enjoy spending time indoors, so it makes sense that most of the renovations will happen inside the house.
A few general things to keep in mind when redesigning the interior of a home for the purpose of aging in place:
- All tripping hazards should be removed (for example, scatter rugs and throw rugs).
- Light switches should be low enough to reach; voice-activated smart lighting may also be a good option.
- Door thresholds should not have a sudden elevation or drop in height that may cause people to stumble.
- Floors should not be slippery.
Installing swing-clear door hinges will create more space by ensuring doors swing out of the frame at 95-degree angles.
Creating wider doorways with thresholds that allow wheelchairs to pass over them will allow easy access to rooms.
Windows should be weatherproofed, with curtains or blinds that can be closed and opened from a seated position. Motorized blinds are usually a good idea.
For security, it’s also important that all windows are able to lock properly.
Should an Aging Adult Use the Window to Escape During a Fire?
If a window is big enough for you to fit through and it’s on the first floor, then you can use it as an escape route if there’s a fire.
Always take into account your or your loved one’s abilities when planning a fire escape route. It’s a good idea to plan more than one exit route in the event of an emergency.
If a window needs to be used, ensure there’s no clutter around it. The U.S. Fire Administration advises older adults to practice home safety drills at least twice per year.
Research has shown that on average almost 38,000 falls occur each year in the U.S. due to people tripping over carpets and rugs.
It is highly advisable to remove any rugs in the home, including:
- Throw rugs
- Area rugs
- Scatter rugs
But it’s not just rugs that aging adults can trip over. Other types of flooring that can cause falls include:
- Stone floors.
- Ceramic, tile, and marble floors.
The above surfaces are cold, hard, and increase the risk of fall injuries. Covering them with wall-to-wall carpets can make a home safer for aging adults.
Carpeting differs from rugs as carpets are secured to the floor, so there’s no risk of tripping over loose rug edges or creases. This type of flooring also serves as insulation and can warm up any living space, making it more pleasant for those who struggle to stay warm.
If you don’t want to go the carpet route, you may want to consider the following options:
- Rubber flooring
- Cork flooring
- Vinyl flooring
Ensure that there’s ample indoor and outdoor lighting.
The controls should be accessible—even better, use voice-activated smart lighting—and there should be backup lighting in case of an outage.
Any electrical faults can compromise your security system or cause fires, so it’s advisable to have your old wiring inspected and replaced.
A backup generator may also be a necessity if you have medical equipment that relies on power, such as an oxygen concentrator.
Your security system—which may consist of sensors, lights, alarms, and cameras—should ideally be accessible via your mobile device.
It may also be a good idea to grant a family member access to certain cameras within the house so that they can respond in case of an emergency.
Move your bedroom downstairs if possible as this limits having to climb the stairs and risk injury.
If you do need to use the stairs, it’s best to:
- Get an electric stair lift
- Eliminate stair lip designs that can cause falls
- Add traction to the stairs—think stick-on pads that create a nonslip surface; carpeted stairs are a great option]
- Add handrails to the stairwell
The bathroom may be one of the most dangerous places in your home due to the increased risk of slipping and falling.
The CDC estimates that almost 22 million nonfatal falls are sustained in bathrooms each year, so it’s worth making your bathroom a safer place.
Take the following steps to minimize the risk of injury in the bathroom:
- Install grab bars near the toilet
- Replace glass shower enclosures with shatter-resistant materials
- Install handrails or grab bars on the shower wall or near the bathtub
- Install a walk-in shower
- Invest in a shower chair
- Install lever-style faucets that are easier to use
- Create a taller toilet by using a toilet riser
Height adjustments often have to be made in the kitchen. For example, countertops, sinks, and stoves may need to be at the correct level for wheelchair accessibility.
Some other common kitchen upgrades include:
- Creating space beneath the counter for a wheelchair
- Ensuring that storage space is accessible and on a lower level to prevent items from falling down onto someone
- Investing in side-by-side or all-in-one refrigerators
- Installing nonslip flooring
- Installing safety controls and smoke detectors
What else can be done to keep aging adults safe in their homes?
Aside from the home upgrades mentioned above, there are some basic things you can do today to make it easier for both you and your loved ones to age in place when the time comes.
Regular physicals and health assessments can diagnose conditions early on and help you get treatment if you have hearing or vision impairments, or chronic health conditions.
Getting regular exercise will help you keep fit and healthy, which directly impacts your quality of life and ability to age in place.
For example, an older adult who regularly goes to the gym or stays fit by taking walks, may have more strength and be able to complete a number of tasks around the house unassisted. So they’ll be great candidates for aging in place.
Regular visits from family or caregivers
Phone calls and video calls are great, but they can’t replace in-person visits. Adults who are aging in place should be checked in on regularly to ensure that they are:
- Managing daily tasks
- Remembering to take the correct medication on time
- Eating healthy meals
- Not growing forgetful and neglecting to do essential things, like locking the doors or turning off the stove
- Able to groom and clean themselves properly
Investing in technology
Remote activity monitoring and safety services allow family members and caregivers to track the movements of older adults from their mobile devices.
Medical alert devices are another useful innovation. They are typically worn around the neck or wrist and can do various things, such as monitor heart rate, detect falls, and connect someone to emergency services or family members with a touch of a button.
In addition, movement sensors and cameras can be set up in living spaces, allowing family members who are unable to visit to still keep an eye on their aging loved ones.
What Are the Costs of Aging in Place?
The costs of aging in place can quickly add up. Certain changes are free—like decluttering your home—while others can cost a pretty penny.
Make a list of everything you need to do and get quotes before you commit to a service provider. Shopping around can save you a lot of money.
Do the most important renovations first and be sure to check what your health insurance provider can help you cover. You may also be eligible for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), so check there too, if applicable.
The earlier you start preparing for aging in place, the greater your chances of giving yourself—or a beloved mom or dad—a peaceful retirement in a place you love.
Where Can I Learn More about Aging in Place?
Are you or a loved one considering aging in place? Are you looking for devices that can help make your home safer? LogicMark can help.
Our devices can be worn on the wrist, around the neck, or be installed in your home—like our Freedom Alert Emergency Wall Communicator—to help keep you and your loved ones safe.
Remote safety and activity monitoring technology protects the people you love by giving them easy, direct access to emergency staff or caregivers. Get in touch to learn more.