Home modifications are changes made to adapt living spaces to meet the needs of people with physical and other limitations so they can continue to live independently and safely. A recent AARP housing survey found that 83% of older Americans want to stay in their current homes for the rest of their lives, but other studies show that most homes are not designed to accommodate the needs of people over 65.(1) Seniors considering whether to stay home or move to a retirement community may be concerned that home modification will be too expensive, but that is not necessarily the case. Home modifications can be as simple as changing door knobs and drawer pulls, or can involve substantial remodeling to the home. Research by the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that home modification and repairs may prevent 30-50% of all home accidents among seniors, including falls. (2) To determine how much modification your home needs in order to be safe, one place to start is a safety checklist on the AARP website.
Examples of home modifications that make staying at home easier as we age include:
- lever-type doorknobs
- cabinet pulls that are easier to grab (i.e. “D” shape)
- improve/add lighting, such as hallways, stairs, and “task lighting” such as lighting under kitchen cabinets
- install higher toilets – currently used in many new homes
- low or no-threshold stall showers with built-in benches or seats
- grab bars in the bathroom
- wide doorways and hallways
- side-by-side refrigerators and raised front- load washers and dryers that minimize stooping and bending
- easily reachable electrical outlets and switches
Important home design features for safety and ease of use are not just for staying in one’s existing home. Incorporating many of the above features at the time of construction add minimal to no cost, and reduce the need for modification later on. Many features described above are becoming commonplace in new-home construction and remodeling jobs.(3) These homes providing “Universal Design” – design features that make good sense and “grow and age” with their residents – will hopefully make it easier and safer for future generations to “age in place” – at home.
(1)Administration on Aging, U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services
(2)Administraton on Aging, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services
(3) National Assn. of Home Builders Survey, 2009, in AZ Republic 1/8/11