Aging in Place: 6 Ways to Improve Your Home [and live more comfortably]

Posted on Apr 23, 2021


Growing older: it happens to everyone. 

A recent study by AARP found that 88% of homeowners 65 years or older would like to stay in their existing homes as they age - yet people often underestimate the importance of planning ahead for tomorrow’s health challenges. The majority of people 65 and older live in homes with stairs, for example - even though 40% of people in their 80s report serious difficulty climbing stairs. 

Whether you're house hunting for the perfect age-in-place home, or modifying your existing house, here’s six things your home should have so that you can avoid common (and potentially dangerous) struggles. 

1. One-Floor, No-Step Model

Stairs can become very difficult to navigate past a certain age. And even for those who can successfully manage them, they ultimately become a falling hazard. Hip fractures represent the most serious bone injuries, and 95% are caused by falling. If seniors are intent on aging in place with stairs, then adding railings to both sides of the stairs can be a key aging-in-place update.

Even better though, opting to live in single-level, single-floor homes can reduce the risk of falling by eliminating both stairs and steps, which represent common hazards. It’s also worth keeping in mind that, as important as it is for seniors to navigate their space, any caregivers that enter the space will need to navigate it as well. 

“To me, aging in place means that we recognize that one day this home will be a caregiving space,” explains Bryan D. Reamer-Yu, director of The Memory Spa, an Active Luxury Senior Day Program. “Your space is the second caregiver - and while homes that have wide doors, walk-in showers, and no stairs are a great first step, the part people always seem to miss is that they need to arrange the space to make future caregiving easier for the person giving care and more enjoyable for the person receiving care. 

The more open the floorplan, the fewer walls between the person needing care and the person receiving care.”

2. Bathroom Modification

To avoid slip-and-falls in the bathroom, you don’t want to be climbing in and out of high-sided tubs. Instead, walk-in showers - and even walk-in tubs - are preferable options. Safety bars can also be of use whether they're for lowering oneself to the toilet, or maneuvering out of a walker into the shower/tub area. 

“Before having a senior ‘stay put’, family caregivers need to ensure the home is appropriate and address five key areas: mobility, dexterity, cognition, vision, and personal health and safety,” explains Rick Lauber, author of The Successful Caregiver's Guide. “Complete renovating can be costly, time-extensive, and upsetting for a senior and family caregivers. An easier way to adapt a senior's home for living-in-place is with the addition of mobility aids. There are many types of mobility aids including bathtub/shower grab bars, bathtub/shower seats, raised toilet seats, specialized cutlery, power lift chairs, stairlifts, wheelchairs, walkers, motorized scooters, exterior ramps, and even elevators.”

Bathrooms can be modified to have:

3. Easy Maintenance 

Not only does it become more difficult to maintain a sprawling yard and a home as you get older, but maintenance can pose a risk as well. Seniors want to relax and enjoy their retirement years rather than climbing a ladder to clear out their gutters, or shoveling out the snow during winter. 

For this reason, condos and other homes with HOAs that take care of the majority of routine maintenance needs can actually be a real asset to seniors. Most home search apps today now allow you to search for homes with HOAs.

 While online profiles rarely touch on everything that HOA fees cover, this is where the help of experienced Realtors comes in. They can help connect you to available homes for sale that require minimal maintenance and come with extensive ammenities.

For more information, read our guide Are HOA Fees Worth It? A Surprising Number of Homeowners Say Yes.

4. Smart Technology

Being able to turn your lights on and off by clapping isn’t lazy; it’s a smart way to adapt your home design to your aging needs. Similarly, setting up your home to be more digital-first can be a great way to enable age-in-place living.

“Quieter dishwashers, laundry equipment and ventilation will provide less interference to conversations for someone who suffers from hearing loss, while today’s app-driven appliances can ping or ring your phone when dinner is done in case you don’t hear the buzzer from the other room,” recommends Janice Costa of KB Designers Network.

Smart tech for seniors:

5. Better Flooring 

Flooring is a basic part of every home that needs to be reconsidered for safe and comfortable aging in place. Throw rugs, while popular in homes, can create tripping hazards. A better option is slip-resistant floor treatment which will help cut down on the likelihood of seniors slipping on smooth wood or tiling. An epoxy or other easy-to-apply material can be purchased for under $100, and these treatments create an “invisible tread” that can make even the most slippery tile completely safe.

Bryce Betteridge, CEO of SATECH, Inc., a company that produces SmartCells® cushioning solutions, notes that new technologies are allowing for smarter, safer solutions without dramatically changing the look of one’s home: “The most studied floor surface to reduce fall injuries is SmartCells. It is a cushioning layer that goes under sheet vinyl and carpet tile and is activated when a fall occurs to reduce the impact force on the body. 

It is probably the most common sense intervention available to prevent injuries and prolong life in aging in place environments.”

Another way you can modify your existing or new home for aging in place is to place strong visual cues as reminders of potentially risky areas. 

“Aging doesn’t just impact reach, strength or even memory; it also can impact vision and hearing. Designing visual cues such as a color border to outline the edge of a countertop or a color change in an area of flooring before a step down into another room, can prevent accidents,” notes Janice Costa. “Motion activated toekick lighting and cabinet interiors that automatically light up when you open the door will also help someone with impaired vision more easily navigate the home.”

Improve your flooring for aging in place using:

6. Walkable Neighborhood

Car accidents become more common in the twilight years as seniors experience arthritis, vision issues, increased medication usage, and other age-related health issues that can interfere with safe driving. It’s important to stay off the road once risks begin to outweigh the benefits.

According to the AARP, the average senior will outlive their ability to drive by 7-10 years. For this reason, opting for a highly walkable community is key. Otherwise, seniors can quickly become isolated in their homes, and overly reliant on family and friends to do basic errand tasks for them. 

Many retirement communities have become increasingly focused on creating walkable components. Walkscore.com is also an extremely valuable tool to use while home shopping since it can deliver a walkability score neighborhood by neighborhood.

For example: the Bella Vista neighborhood in Philadelphia has a walking score of 96, while the Chestnut Hill suburb has a score of 65. While residents can get around Bella Vista relatively easy on foot, some errands in Chestnut Hill will likely require a car.

For an easy to navigate life after driving, look for neighborhoods with:

  • A walk score of 70 or higher
  • Hazard-free and unrestricted sidewalks
  • Top amenities (grocery stores, church, or bus stops, for example) a walkable distance from home

Opt for Aging in Place Home Modifications Now, Not Later

The best time to prepare your home for aging in place is before you actually require it. The very youngest of the baby boomers are turning 55 this year, which means that thousands of Americans are nearing or entering their retirement age soon. Ensure your future comfort by preparing today!

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