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November 2019

How to find, renovate, or build a home suitable for aging-in-place

By Kris Lindahl REALTOR CRS CLHMS, CEO/Owner The Kris Lindahl Team at Kris Lindahl Real Estate

November 7, 2019

Three out of four people would prefer to continue to reside in their family home through their golden years. With only one percent of properties suitable for aging-in-place, the majority of homes are not quite ready for that move, however. To bring their home up to safe standards for aging-in-place, seniors likely have to perform small improvements, or even full renovations, depending on their home layout and features. Through those efforts, they can reduce their risk of injury and achieve their dream of continuing to reside at home.

With guidelines from helpful organizations leading the way, seniors can renovate their home to bring it up to speed. And, if that's not possible, these guidelines can help in finding/buying a home that will work best through the golden years. Here's a look at all the different areas they will need to pay attention to in creating or finding a home suitable for aging-in-place.

Bedrooms

Bedrooms do not always get the attention they deserve - perhaps because they do not receive a lot of foot traffic. But it only takes once to trip and fall on improperly secured flooring or furniture and suffer a serious injury. For that reason, seniors need to pay close attention to this area from the start. Things such as the height of a bed, or flooring materials should be accounted for. Some may opt for grab bars to help assist in getting in and out of bed.

Millions of seniors eventually end up relying on canes, walkers, and other mobility devices to safely get around. Other people may not need mobility devices, but still have a hard time getting around, especially up and down stairs. To ensure they can safely and easily access their bedroom, they may need their bedroom relocated to the first floor. If that is not a possibility, then installing a stairlift may be the next best thing.

Bathrooms

Slippery floors and hard surfaces all around make the bathroom an important room to focus on when aging in place. Over 234,000 people go to the emergency room each year due to injuries from incidents occurring in the bathroom -most of which were falls. Luckily, bathrooms can be made a lot safer with a few key renovations. And with all the recent innovations in this realm, seniors do not have to compromise on aesthetics along the way. To update their bathroom with tasteful safety features, they will need to look for comfort height toilets, ergonomic handheld showerheads, and shower rails.

Other key methods of boosting bathroom safety include:

  • Widening the doorway for easier access
  • Building a bigger walk-in shower or bathtub
  • Installing anti-slip tape on slippery floors
  • Placing more light fixtures in the bathroom
  • Convert all towel racks to attractive grab bars

If seniors can go one step further in renovating their home, they should also consider replacing the flooring with anti-slip materials. These are many different varieties of anti-slip tile, vinyl, and laminate designed for use in the bathroom.

Kitchen

Much like the bathroom, kitchen floors can get wet and slippery, increasing the risk of slip and fall accidents. There is also a risk of burns, cuts, and other injuries. Kitchens are typically not built to allow for free movement while using mobility devices.

Renovations tend to start with the widening of the passageways for that reason. Once the counters are moved to the optimal space, then seniors should turn their attention to the flooring. Installing slip-resistant flooring helps reduce the risk of injury and creates a space for all to enjoy.

Other important changes may include:

  • Removal of all floor rugs and anti-fatigue mats
  • Installation of undercabinet lighting and other fixtures
  • Placement of automatic light switches
  • Relocation of thermostat in the kitchen

Through these improvements, seniors can improve their chance of avoiding injuries that commonly occur in the kitchen.

Living Areas

The rest of the living areas in the home need just as much attention to ensure the space is as safe as it can be. Seniors will need to check the spacing of walkways and minimize the amount of furniture within each space. In addition to actively preventing injuries, creating a minimalist layout will reduce clutter and make it easier to keep the space tidy through the years.

For those with difficulties standing up from a sitting position, they may want to get mobility-assist furniture, such as a power recliner. Alternatively, they can keep a stand assist device nearby to help, though it needs to stay out of the pathways through the room.
In addition to these areas, seniors should address problematic issues, such as loose flooring and poor lighting. Removing all throw rugs can also go a long way in preventing accidental injuries from falls and other incidents.

Other Considerations

Hazards exist outside the main living areas as well. The stairs, garage, and other areas all need equal attention to keep the risk of injury to a minimum while aging-in-place.

Stairs

Stairs need to have firmly secured treads with anti-slip runners installed to allow seniors to carefully move up and down that area. They should also have a secure handrail that goes from the bottom to the top of the stairway. With these elements, seniors can safely move along the stairs with a minimal risk of injury.

As their mobility declines, or health problems develop, however, stairs should be avoided as much as possible. Seniors may relocate their living space to the main floor or have a stairlift installed instead.

Flooring

Every flooring surface in the home should be carefully examined to determine if it increases the risk of injury. In addition to looking for damage that could cause trip and fall accidents, seniors should look at the flooring surface itself. The surface should provide enough grip for seniors to maintain their sure footing as they move through the home. This is particularly important for flooring that gets wet, such as in the:

  • Bathroom
  • Laundry room
  • Kitchen
  • Garage

Vinyl, linoleum, and laminate are some of the best flooring options for aging-in-place for that reason. Anti-slip tape can help in certain areas when flooring cannot be replaced.

Garage

The garage is an oft-forgotten place in the home when it comes to properly preparing the property for aging-in-place. But for those who enjoy spending their time in that area, or simply need to use that space in their home, it is an important consideration. To make the garage safer, seniors may want to:

  • Widen pathways
  • Make the flooring non-slip
  • Install handrails and grab bars

If seniors need to enter their home from the garage, they may also want to consider having a ramp or garage lift installed for easy access.

Exterior

All exterior pathways and entryways into the home need to be free of obstructions and hazards to remain safe for seniors. They should thoroughly explore these areas for cracks and other damage that could increase the risk of falls. In addition, they may need to have a mobility-friendly ramp built to keep stairs going up to the home from becoming a problem.

Additionally, seniors can:

  • Switch to loop-style door handles on all doors
  • Make sure the exterior door weighs less than five pounds
  • Install grab bars at key locations along the ramp and walkways
  • Improve the lighting by installing new fixtures and brighter bulbs

With these changes, seniors can minimize their risk of injury and other issues while aging-in-place.

By addressing every area of the home, seniors can greatly decrease their risks and improve their ability to remain at home through their golden years. Brokers looking to assist senior home buyers may also want to become acquainted with age-in-place principles in order to best serve their clients.