After decades of building a life in your home, curating your belongings, and investing in your community, the prospect of reorienting your life to move to a senior living facility is a daunting one! It’s no surprise that the AARP found that almost 80% of Americans aged 50 and older would prefer to remain in their homes and communities as they age. But without planning, aging in place can seem like Mission: Impossible.
Strategic home improvement projects can pave the way for you to remain in your home by creating an environment that comfortably compensates for a decline in vision, mobility, cognition, and other challenges.
We chatted with Sena Mortey, an occupational therapist who has been helping seniors maintain their independence for almost 30 years. She helped us explore a range of home improvement ideas that can help turn Mission: Impossible into Mission: Complete!
Mission #1: Nix Stairs, Steps, and Awkward Transition Strips
If there isn't a bedroom on the ground floor, re-evaluate the floor plan. Consider converting a dining room or formal sitting room into an accessible en suite so there is no need to climb stairs.
When moving from one space to another, is there a step up, step down, or a flooring transition strip that sticks out intrusively? For example, sunrooms are popular places for seniors to spend time, but they are notorious for having a step-down. Upgrading flooring to one material throughout the home can provide an opportunity to level out these trip hazards.
Mission #2: Improve Accessibility Throughout the Home
Widen doorways and passageways to allow wheelchair access throughout the home.
Maximize natural light in the home by upgrading windows. This not only enhances visibility but also improves mood and overall well-being.
Cut the clutter and excessive furniture. That antique writing desk is indeed gorgeous, but if it is just one more item to maneuver a walker or wheelchair around, it’s better to find a new home for it.
Reconsider flooring options. Carpet, especially with a pile of more than ½ an inch, makes using a walker or wheelchair challenging. On the other hand, polished ceramic tile can be slippery and particularly hard in the case of a fall. There are wonderful hardwood and luxury vinyl plank options that are textured and improve traction.
Mission #3: Leverage Technology to Enhance Safety
Smart lighting that responds to motion can be helpful when mobility is reduced. The modern version of clap-on lights can be controlled via voice commands or mobile apps. This smart lighting system can extend to integrated hardwired LEDs that can light bedrooms, bathrooms, and dark passageways in the middle of the night.
Install a smart home security system to improve safety and provide peace of mind. These systems often include features like video monitoring, motion sensors, and remote access control.
Smart devices like the Echo Show or Nest Hub make it easier to stay connected with friends and family and to get information.
Mission #4: Prioritize Comfort in the Kitchen and Laundry Room
When renovating the kitchen, consider the "kitchen triangle" layout for optimal efficiency. This layout ensures a smooth flow between the sink, stove, and refrigerator, reducing unnecessary movement.
Convert the kitchen into an eat-in kitchen to create a convenient dining space. This modification eliminates the need to move between different rooms. Bonus points if the layout allows you to make a plate and then drag the plate across the counter to the eat-in bar while using a walker or cane. This eliminates the need to balance plates and beverages on one hand.
Install waist-high dish drawers. It’s safer for people with limited mobility to reach down slightly than reaching high to retrieve items.
Adding a pot filler near the stove eliminates the need to carry heavy pots filled with water from the sink. This modification reduces strain on your back and prevents accidents.
Install a countertop with a stool that can be pulled out and pushed back. This provides a comfortable seating option while folding laundry or, in the kitchen, while doing dishes.
Think accessible when it comes to appliances. Install elevated wall ovens and accessible refrigerators to make cooking and food storage more convenient.
Top-loading washers and dryers tend to work better if you have back and hip issues, but if selecting front loaders, ensure they are on pedestals and the doors swing open in a way that allows transferring wet clothes to the dryer without having to maneuver around a door.
Mission #5: Make the Bathroom Less of An Obstacle Course
Opt for a walk-in shower with no curb to ensure easy and safe access for seniors. Bonus points for an open shower that can allow you to simply cruise in and out.
Ensure the shower is large enough to accommodate a shower chair, providing a comfortable and secure bathing experience.
Install handles and railings on the shower entrance, the wall adjacent to the entry, and the far wall from the entry. These support features provide stability and assist with balance.
Choose flooring materials specifically designed to minimize slipping on wet and soapy surfaces. This helps reduce the risk of falls and promotes a safer bathroom environment.
Install a tall toilet or consider adding risers to existing ones. This modification makes it easier to sit down and stand up independently.
The fact is, our lives are richer when we get to be part of our home communities. A few improvements can make a relatively carefree transition into our sunset years possible.