Make your home safe and comfortable for aging residents

If you’re like most Americans, you’d like to stay in your own home as you grow older. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 89 percent of Americans want to live in their homes and communities as long as possible.

Aging in place is partially dependent on family and community support, but architecture and smart interior design are equally important to make a home safe and functional for residents with diminished physical capacity due to age or illness.

Whether you’re building a new house or remodeling an existing one, the purpose of “universal design” – as this approach is known – is to make the residence safe and comfortable for people of any age, size or ability. Universal design prevents accidents, enhances “livability,” and increase the residents’ independence.

AARP suggests incorporating the following essential universal design features:

  • At least one no-step entry to the house
  • Entryway doors that are at least 36 inches wide and interior doors at least 32 inches wide
  • Light controls, electrical outlets, and thermostats that are easily reachable for a person in a wheelchair
  • A three-foot wide corridor without steps or barriers that connects all rooms on the main floor
  • Lever-style door handles and faucets that don’t require grasping or twisting to open
  • A bedroom, kitchen, living area, and full bathroom on the main floor
  • Reinforced bathroom walls for the option of adding grab bars.

When it comes to making a home safe for older residents, reducing hazards is especially important. According to AARP, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths for people over 65 “and the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma. Each year in the United States, nearly one-third of older adults experience a fall,” and most falls occur in or very near the house.

It’s essential, therefore, to assess your home’s layout and identify places with slippery or uneven surfaces as well as fixtures or appliances that require bending low, reaching high or surmounting obstacles. In addition to the items listed above, the following items are among the most useful to add or modify:

  • Raised front-loading clothes washer, dryer, and dishwasher
  • Side-by-side refrigerator
  • Easy-access kitchen storage (pull-out shelves, adjustable cupboards, lazy Susans)
  • Low or no-threshold stall shower with built-in bench or seat;
  • Non-slip floors, bathtubs, and showers
  • Raised toilets
  • Low- kitchen countertops for working while seated
  • Windows that are easy to open and close
  • Rocker-style light switches
  • Adequate lighting throughout the dwelling but especially in places where tasks are performed
  • Easy-to-grasp cabinet pulls
  • Wide turning areas of at least 60”x60” for people with limited physical ability

For more information about universal design and aging in place, see the AARP website.

If you’re thinking about building or renovating a home for yourself or an aging relative, give us a call or send an e-mail. We’d be happy to discuss your plans.