POST 50
06/23/2017 10:22 am ET

How To Age-Proof Your Home

Don’t wait until retirement to make your home functional for mature living.

Once the kids have left home to begin lives of their own, many mature homeowners downsize to a smaller home and some move to a seniors-only community. But thanks to smart planning and a wider array of services available to mature adults, more and more retirees are deciding to stay in their homes lifelong—or as long as they possibly can.

Living the best life in your own home in retirement requires some changes. After all, thoughts of retirement and aging-in-place probably weren’t factors when you chose your current home. By making needed modifications now—even if you’re in your 50s—you’ll save time, money and inconvenience later.

Every home is unique and each person ages differently, but here are just a few essential points to consider when it comes to age-proofing your home.

Eliminate potential obstacles. Reduce the number of furniture pieces in each room. Simplify seating arrangements to leave a generous distance between furniture pieces and walls to create pathways that are safe and easy to navigate.

Get rid of excess clutter, and make sure there’s plenty of lighting in rooms and especially hallways. Install railings on both sides of any stairs in or outside the home. Remove decorative throw rugs and consider installing non-glare, slip-resistant flooring in foyers, kitchens and baths.

Move downstairs. We become unsteady as we age, so stairs can become a hazard. Single story homes are best for mature adults. But if you already live in a multi-story house, consider moving the master bedroom and bath to the main level. Keep furnishings sparse and pathways uncluttered. If carpeting is preferred in the bedroom (or elsewhere else in the home), choose low pile or low density with a firm pad.  

Make a bigger, safer bathroom. As we get older, bathrooms pose major dangers. Consider installing a taller profile toilet and replacing bathtubs with a large, no-curb shower stall that’s outfitted with interior lighting, slip-resistant flooring, a fold-down seat, easy to reach controls and adjustable, handheld showerhead with a six-foot hose.

Plan ahead when remodeling. When remodeling bathrooms and other living areas, consider enlarging doorways and opening up floor space to accommodate a possible future wheelchair or walker. Add bracing inside the walls around tubs, shower seats and toilets in bathrooms for installation of strong grab bars that will support 250-300 pounds (grab bars with suction cups aren’t reliable). Don’t be put off by the idea of grab bars. The latest models are designed to fit in with the rest of your bathroom design or home décor and some grab bars fold out of the way when not in use. 

Create a safer home exterior. Install motion sensor lighting to illuminate walkways at night. Repair and replace uneven walkways, broken concrete and loosened or crumbling bricks or pavers. Consider placing a sturdy table or build a shelf next to exterior doors where grocery bags, mail and packages can be set down while unlocking the door and then easily retrieved on the way in, without your having to bend down to ground level. And, if you love gardening, consider installing raised beds to extend the time you’ll be able to enjoy it.

Consult with experts. Look for professionals in your area who hold one or more of the top certifications that show specialized training and understanding of the needs of older adults. They can make home assessments and are knowledgeable about home modifications, and creating attractive, barrier-free living spaces and updates that allow independent living for all ages.

Look for: 

  • Occupational Therapists with Specialty Certification in Environmental Modifications (SCEM) or the Executive Certificate in Home Modifications (ECHM), both through the American Occupational Therapy Association or the CAPS designation from the National Association of Home Builders.
  • Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS) are remodelers, occupational therapists, designers, architects and others who have received training from the National Association of Home Builders

Talk with several specialists by phone and invite your favorites to conduct in-home consultations to begin planning how to age-proof your home within your timeframe and budget.

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