The challenge for those wishing to age-in-place is that most homes are NOT designed to accommodate the needs of older adults or those with disabilities.
For many older adults and people with disabilities, home accessibility modifications are the key to successfully aging in place and maintaining independence. Home repairs and modifications range from simple changes to comprehensive remodeling but even a small change can make it easier and safer to carry out everyday activities such as bathing, cooking, and moving around the house.
Many people do not think about changing their home environment until an accident has occurred or they can no longer perform basic tasks.
With a little foresight, homeowners can initiate the necessary changes before they become urgent. Early action can allow people of all ages to enjoy an independent lifestyle without undergoing a difficult and unexpected transition. Home modifications may also increase the value of a home as more people seek out homes that are already accessible.
Most older people live in homes that are more than 20 years old. As these buildings get older along with their residents, they may become harder to live in or maintain. A house that was perfectly suitable for a senior at age 55, for example, may have too many stairs or slippery surfaces for a person who is 70 or 80. Research by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that home modifications and repairs may prevent up to 50% of all home accidents among seniors, including falls that take place in these older homes.
Improving accessibility means making doorways wider, clearing spaces to make sure a wheelchair can pass through, lowering countertop heights for sinks and kitchen cabinets, installing grab bars, and placing light switches and electrical outlets at heights that can be reached easily.
Adaptability features are changes that can be made quickly to accommodate the needs of seniors or disabled individuals without having to completely redesign the home or use different materials for essential fixtures. Examples include installing grab bars in bathroom walls and movable cabinets under the sink so that someone in a wheelchair can use the space.
Related to aging in place is “universal design,” which emphasizes accessibility for all, with no sacrifice in style. Components may be as simple as abundant lighting, lever-style door handles, well-located storage, chair-height toilets, slip-resistant flooring and open plans with plenty of circulation space. The most visible result of aging-in-place design is living space that is simply roomier and more open.
Visitability features include home modifications for seniors who may want to entertain disabled guests or who wish to plan ahead for the day when they may require some extra help in getting around their own homes. For example, installing a ramp to the front door of a house and remodeling the hallways and rooms to allow wheelchair access would make a home easier to visit for disabled family members or friends. Such changes may also give seniors a head start on home modifications they may need later in their lives.
From the Healthy Aging Begins at Home report by the Bipartisan Policy Center May 2016