Has constantly scrolling through Pinterest, watching home improvement shows, or skimming the “dream house” magazines on your coffee table got you itching to do a fancy makeover this summer? I know the feeling. And I’ve had my fair share of projects-gone-wrong that are probably worthy of a “Pinterest Fail” designation to prove it.
But I’m not here to talk about your next DIY lamp project. I want to talk today about how this summer’s home improvement project could help your family live at home longer. By harnessing the concepts of Universal Design, your next renovation could help you and your family age in place, living independently at home longer than might otherwise be possible.
Consider the long view. If your family isn’t dealing with the challenges of a family member’s aging needs now, chances are you will be soon. With the number of old projected to outnumber the young by the year 2020 for the first time in history, taking care of the elderly (if only our own elderly selves) is something most of us will be faced with. Nearly 90% of seniors say they want to live at home for as long as possible, so making your home accessible now is in your best interest.
Even if you don’t plan to stay in your current home when you retire, consider how making it comfortable and accessible for your aging loved ones now could improve their experience while visiting or living with you. Also, consider how a quickly aging market will view your home if you decide to sell.
Any way you look at it, renovating your home for aging in place is a smart move, and the principles behind Universal Design can help you get started.
Coined in the 1980s by an architect who used a wheelchair, the term Universal Design refers to an architecture that helps people live comfortably at home, no matter what their needs are. While its principles are used to make buildings equitable for all people, today it seems to be most often employed in designing homes for the aging population.
So how can your summer projects help ensure that your home is livable for those with needs related to aging? First, think about the various challenges associated with aging, and consider the way a home shapes your life. (You may realize just how much you take for granted when it comes to controlling your basic activities of daily living!) Things to keep in mind include:
- Visibility needs. How could diminishing eyesight hinder day-to-day life?
- Wheelchair accessibility. If you required a wheelchair to move around your home, how many places would be difficult to reach?
- Dexterity issues. With muscles weakened by arthritis or other conditions, gripping doorknobs or even cabinet handles can be challenging. How many doors in your home have lever handles?
- Falling, slipping, or tripping hazards. Where in the house could someone have trouble if they drag their feet?
- Fatigue. Can all your spaces, appliances, and systems be used efficiently and comfortably?
- Reduced maintenance. When basic tasks become more difficult, what renovations could help reduce the effort of cleaning and maintaining the home?
Here are some ideas to consider implementing in your home—just remember to consult with a professional before attempting any construction.
16 Tips for Renovating a Home for Aging in Place
Easy changes you can implement now
1) Install grab bars in the shower. All bathrooms can benefit from the added security a grab bar provides. The Lowe’s website has a helpful grab bar installation walkthrough.
2) Install a shower seat. Standing in the shower for a long period of time can be tiring for older adults. A foldable shower seat can give them needed rest and can be stowed away when not in use. Houzz.com has some nice shower seat examples.
3) Replace doorknobs with lever handles. Lever handles are much easier to operate than traditional doorknobs for those with arthritis and other hand ailments. Houselogic.com provides tips for doorknob replacement projects.
4) Replace traditional light switches with rocker or touch switches. As with doorknobs, a traditional toggle switch can be too small to handle, or even too small to see. A rocker or touch style is much simpler to operate. The AARP website has a video that can help you with this aging-in-place upgrade.
5) Use easy-to-operate hardware for windows. Everyone needs fresh air once in a while, but some windows are harder to open than others. You may want to research the pros and cons of different window hardware options.
6) Install recessed lighting that illuminates cabinets and countertops. Installing task lighting to brighten workspaces in kitchens, laundry rooms and closets is a great way to improve living spaces for elders. You could install recessed lighting directly into your rooms (the Home Depot website has a handy how-to for you) or you could simply stick on battery-operated push lights or remote lights (HGTV has a useful page full of under-cabinet ideas).
7) Install lever handles or pedal controls for sink faucets. Lever handles on sink faucets make them easier to operate for all users, and if you want to go the extra mile, a foot pedal can help those with limited mobility and save on the water bill. Check out a foot pedal faucet in action on thekitchn.com.
8) Install sensor lighting at each entry. This is a good safety feature for any house, but can especially help older occupants with impaired nighttime vision feel secure at home. Check out the video on DIY Network for helpful information.
More intensive aging in place renovation options
9) Have a light switch at every entrance to a room. And make sure the switch can be reached from a wheelchair. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, light switches should be placed from 15 to 48 inches above the floor to be accessible.
10) Have visual contrast at every level change, including stair steps. This will help the vision-impaired avoid trips and falls. Visionaware.org has a video that can help you understand the effects low contrast can have on your visual experience in a home.
11) Replace high-pile with low pile. High-pile carpet can increase the risk of trips and falls, as well as impeding movement for those using a walker or a cane. Remember that throw rugs and wrinkled area rugs can also cause falls.
12) Replace old hardwood or tiles with slip-resistant flooring. Pay attention to slip ratings when purchasing new flooring materials. Pay special attention to high-use areas like entryways and high-risk areas like bathrooms and kitchens. AARP has a helpful page with advice on choosing kitchen flooring.
13) Install a curbless shower. Even minor changes in elevation can be hazardous for those with mobility problems, and the slick surfaces and moisture of the shower make it one of the riskiest step-over locations in the home. Giving occupants the ability to move straight into the shower can improve their quality of life. Curbless shower design can also add modern beauty to your bathroom space.
14) Make the entry accessible. Remove steps and obstructions from the path leading to your home’s entrance to ensure that anyone can approach the door. Think about replacing your front porch steps with a gradual incline from the driveway.
15) Remove cabinets under the bathroom sink to accommodate knee space. Would it be possible to use your sink if you needed to sit? If not, a removable cabinet could be the answer, or you could even install a new wall-hung sink.
16) Have a completely livable first floor. If an older relative is moving in, creating a new bedroom and/or bathroom on the first floor would eliminate the need for them to climb the stairs. However, long hallways may be difficult as well. For some, installing a chair lift or elevator may be the best or only option. Remember to accommodate everyone’s privacy needs, too.
Over to you
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