Dear Savvy Senior:
My husband and I are both in our 60's and are interested in making some modest changes to our home to make it more practical and senior-friendly, but aren't sure what to do. What resources can you recommend to help us figure this out?
Most seniors, like you and your husband, want to stay living in their own home. But being able to do so often depends on how easy it will be to get around the house if you develop physical limitations. Here are some helpful resources you can turn to in order to get an idea of what types of improvements you should make that will make your home safer and more convenient as you grow older.
A good first step in making your house senior-friendly is to do a home assessment. Go through your house, room by room, as if you've never set foot in it before, looking for problem areas like potential tripping or slipping hazards and areas that are hard to access. To help you with this, there are various organizations that offer published lists of questions to ask and things to look for to identify problems.
The Fall Prevention Center of Excellence, for example, offers a number of online checklists including one called "How Well Does Your Home Meet Your Needs?" that you can access directly at homeneedschecklist.org. Or, download and print off the National Caregivers Library "Home Modification Checklist."
AARP also has an excellent resource called "The AARP Home Fit Guide" that provides a checklist and tips to keep your home safe and livable as you age. You can access it at homefitguide.org, or if you're an AARP member, call 888-687-2277 and ask them to mail you a free copy.
If you want more personalized help, consider getting a professional in-home assessment with an occupational therapist.
An occupational therapist, or OT, can evaluate the challenges and shortcomings of your home, make modification recommendations and refer you to products and services to help you make improvements. Ask your doctor for a referral to an OT in your area. Your local Area Agency on Aging (call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 for contact information) can also help you find nearby therapists.
Many health insurance providers, including Medicare, will pay for a home assessment by an OT if prescribed by your doctor. However, they will not cover the physical upgrades to the home.
Another good option is to contact a builder who's a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. He or she can suggest ways to modify your home that will fit your needs and budget. To find one, go to the National Association of Home Builders website at nahb.org/hireacaps where you can search by state and zip code.
Home Modifications Ideas
There are dozens of small, simple things you can do to make your home more user-friendly as you age, such as securing throw rugs with double-sided tape to avoid tripping, installing brighter full-spectrum bulbs in existing light fixtures to improve visibility and adding grab bars to the bathroom for support. There are also a number of bigger more extensive projects like installing a stair-lift or elevator for multi-floor access, and replacing the tub with a walk-in shower for easier entry and exit.
To get a list of more senior-friendly home improvement ideas and illustrations, see the National Aging in Place Council website "Making Your Home Senior Friendly."
Another good resource that's loaded with tips and universal design ideas is the "AARP Guide to Revitalizing Your Home." It's available in book stores nationwide as well as online at sites like amazon.com for around $16.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.