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The best renovations for aging in place

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | February 19, 2015

Aging in place is an important issue to consider when choosing the best renovations for your home. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that 90 percent of all seniors want to stay in their own homes as they age. Unfortunately, most seniors live in homes that are not yet ready to meet the challenges of aging.

If you are determined to stay in your home through your golden years, now is the time to prepare for that. Don't wait until it's tough to get around! These renovations can help you get ready for the years ahead.

Start with the basics

When we start to age, it's the little things that bother us. In addition to the aching back and tired knees, there are small points about your house that could turn into big hassles. Start with these basic remedies:

  • Install grab-bars in the bathroom
  • Replace typical light switches with rocker switches which are easier for those with arthritis
  • Consider moving electrical outlets to a higher point on the wall
  • Replace round doorknobs with lever-style models
  • Rethink lighting to provide more illumination where it is needed most
  • Widen narrow doorways, if possible

Keep in mind that falls are the primary cause of accidental death each year for those over the age of 65. Falls are also the number-one reason for injury-related visits to the emergency room. Now is the time to make non-slip flooring a priority throughout the home; choose flooring that offers a good grip, such as carpet or textured linoleum.

Kitchen adjustments allow anyone to cook

It can be tough to think about the long-term possibilities for your health, but it pays to be honest about what might happen. For instance, what if you are confined to a wheelchair or need a walker to move safely around your home? How will you use your kitchen?

Prepare now by choosing appliances that are easy to use from a wheelchair. Opt for cooking areas that are of different heights, to accommodate anyone in the house. Swap the traditional faucet for one that provides water with a wave of the hand. Install pull-out shelves to alleviate the need for reaching into deep cabinets. A pot filler over the stove is great for those who have limited strength. As an added bonus, these renovations make cooking easier for anyone, whether they are elderly or not.

Walk-in tubs make bathing easier

As we get older, the bathroom becomes more dangerous. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 235,000 people visited the emergency room each year for injuries sustained in the bathroom; more than a third of those accidents happened during bathing or showering.

Walk-in tubs are a marvel of universal design. They allow you to skip the dangerous climb in and out of the tub full of water, thus eliminating much of the slip-and-fall risk. They fit into the size of a typical tub, so the renovations don't have to require any serious new construction. Walk-in tubs also have many therapeutic additions that can be great for those who have certain medical conditions, such as arthritis or lower back pain.

Stair climbers are great for multiple stories

Climbing the stairs is one of the first things that turns into a chore as we get older. First those cranky knees groan in protest, and later, the unsteadiness that comes with age makes us more likely to trip. In 2013, more than 2.5 million older Americans were treated in the emergency room for falls; more than 734,000 of those patients were hospitalized for injuries related to the fall, according to the CDC.

Falling down the staircase is one of the most dangerous scenarios. Ensure your safety right now by making plans for a stair climber to help you move through the levels of your home. Stair climbers can be very simple chairs that attach to a sturdy railing and move slowly up and down the stairway. They can also be very elaborate, with bells and whistles that make the ride a luxury. This means that stair climbers are available for every budget and home configuration.

What about the exterior of your home?

Now that the inside of your home is looking good for aging in place, what about the outside? If you have exterior stairs leading to a porch or deck, make sure there is a very sturdy rail to hold onto when coming and going. Use non-slip paint on steps and entryways, and make sure the walkway is well-lit. Look into what it might take to add a ramp onto the house, if that ever becomes necessary. Rethink the landscaping; will you be able to keep up with labor-intensive shrubs, bushes, and plants as you get older?

By preparing your home now with renovations that allow for aging in place, you are ensuring a less stressful transition into your golden years.

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.