An increasing number of older adults are planning to stay in their homes as they age. Unfortunately most homes are not accessible. If you plan to age in place, it is a good idea to start modifying your environment to make this transition easier.
AARP conducted a study that found that more and more adults prefer to stay within their homes and communities as they age. Many towns are already implementing transportation programs and physical improvements to accommodate this growing trend.
While newer homes are being designed and built with diminished mobility issues in mind, you can still make accessibility improvements to your current home that are affordable. Safety is of primary concern. Here are 7 ideas to get you started.
1. Level Floor Transitions
The transitions between different floor surfaces are often in the form of raised saddles and thresholds. Have a flooring specialist or handyman remove these transitions and install flush inserts of wood or stone between the two flooring surfaces.
2. Install Sloped Ramps at Entrance Doors
A typical entry step is 6” to 8” above the outside grade. You can purchase, or have made, removable sloped transition ramps that make it easier to navigate the front door step with a wheelchair, walker, or cane. These range in lengths from 1 foot to 3 feet.
3. Remove or Replace Throw Rugs
Throw rugs are mostly tripping hazards. There are specialty rugs or runners that are made to lie very flat with rubber backings to make sure the rug remains in place. These are predominantly designed for commercial use. They are available at office supply and big box stores. They may not be as attractive as what you have, but they are much safer and can be wheeled over.
4. Add Grab Bars in Bathrooms
Adding grab bars inside shower and tub surrounds is one of the best things you can do for your safety. You may also want to add bars at the back and side walls of your toilet. This is not a DIY project. You will need adequate framing inside your walls to support the bars properly. A carpenter can determine if your framing is sound by using a specialty stud finding device.
5. Swap out Faucet Handles
Lever armed faucet handles can be manipulated with your forearm or elbow. This is ideal for those with arthritis. A plumber can exchange round handles to levers easily.
6. Add a Hand-held Shower
Consider replacing your current shower head with a hand-held shower that you can use while seated. It hooks onto a supply pole or the wall and is easy to use while sitting or standing. This will need to be installed and tested by a plumber.
7. Change your Door Knobs to Levers
Similar to faucet handles, lever style door handles are much easier to operate using your forearm or elbow. You can change out the hardware completely, or you can purchase levers that adapt to your existing knobs, making this an affordable project that you can do yourself.
With proper planning you can gradually transform your home for better accessibility. A good resource for accessibility modifications is The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). They have prepared an accessibility checklist for homeowners and builders to use for new home construction and existing home remodeling.