As people age, it becomes clear that in terms of housing, one size does not fit all. The majority of older Americans say they prefer to remain independent in familiar surroundings, but that often means some adjustments must be made to their homes.
Not all projects require a contractor. There are changes you can make yourself, or with a little help, that can improve access, comfort and safety:
Doorways may have to be widened to admit walkers and wheelchairs. Ramps may have to be added and in some cases, private elevators installed. Aware of these special needs, the housing industry has responded by developing a new specialty in remodeling: renovating for accessibility and age.
Thinking ahead to what your needs might be in the future can mean the difference between staying in your home or moving to a group living facility. The National Association of Home Builders suggests doing a room-by-room assessment of your home, evaluating it for areas that may present problems now or later.
- Are all of the key rooms accessible and maneuverable for a person with limited walking or standing ability?
- If you were confined to a wheelchair, are countertops, cabinets, and cooking controls easily reachable?
- What about light switches, receptacles, thermostats, and fire alarms?
- Is the bathroom fitted with special equipment such as grab bars and lowered towel racks?
- Are floors made of non-slip materials?
Don’t Overlook the Outside
You may also want to look around outside your home to see how, with some modifications, you can make it as low maintenance as possible.
If you have a large lawn that needs frequent cutting, a landscaper may be able to suggest some changes such as ground cover or other attractive designs that require less work to keep them looking manicured. Slopes can be minimized and steps eliminated, or supplemented with nearby ramps and handrails.
If you regularly paint the exterior of your home, you may want to install vinyl siding and trim that require less attention. Decks and fences can also be converted to vinyl for easy maintenance. For homeowners with limited mobility, access to favorite places like gardens, decks, and even swimming pools can be made easier by thinking ahead.
The National Association of Home Builders recommends that if you need to improve the maneuverability of your home, consider hiring a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. These professionals are trained not only in common remodeling projects, but in meeting the unique needs of older people who want to stay in their homes. They receive certification from the National Association of Home Builders and are required to maintain their expertise through continuing education.
Here are some questions to ask when planning to modify your home:
- Do I want to add a bathroom and possibly a bedroom to the main level?
- How can I make the kitchen more functional and accessible?
- Are there improvements that can help prevent falls?
- How much money can I budget for these projects?
- Can I use a home equity loan?
To locate a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist, you can look under “remodel” in the yellow pages or click here.
Before embarking on a remodeling project to make your home more accessible, first ask yourself how long you want to remain in the house. If this is the place you want to spend your later years, evaluate your home to help make it comfortable for as long as possible.