Easy home modifications can enable seniors to age in place comfortably

Eighty-seven percent of adults aged 65 years and older want to remain in their home as they age, according to AARP.1 It’s a natural inclination—most prefer the comforts of home over new or different environments.

“We have attachments to our homes, neighborhoods, friends, families,” says Karen Smith, OT, CAPS, Approved Provider Program Manager Practice Associate for the American Occupational Therapy Association, Bethesda, Md. “We are comfortable there, and often don’t want to or see a need for change. There is a sense of autonomy and control for many who wish to remain at home as well as a perceived quality of life enhancement.”

But remaining at home might require some modifications, depending on the home. As people get older their risk of falling increases. Every year at least a quarter-million older adults are hospitalized for hip fractures, and one out of five falls causes serious injury.2 Accessibility in a home, or lack thereof, could prevent some from remaining in their home as they age.

Thankfully, there are simple home modifications that can be made, Smith says, to help seniors safely age in place. Local builders, architects, occupational therapists and other healthcare professionals can help determine and design the key features that will create the best and safest environment to support aging in place.

Some of the must-have adaptations to consider include:

  • Grab bars near the toilet and in the showers/tubs to help with stability, sitting and standing.
  • Railings on all stairways. Having them on both sides is best, Smith says, but at least one side of the stairs should have a railing down its entire length.
  • Bathroom access on the main floor that is also wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair.
  • A first floor bedroom, or a room that can be converted into one if need be.
  • At least one entrance to the home that does not require steps. “Any steps can be an impediment to independent living in the event of future mobility problems,” Smith explains, but adds that work-arounds to this issue can include ramps, steps with a shorter height, or lifts.
  • Reachable storage areas in kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms and other areas of the home.
  • An area to sit while working on meal preparation tasks.

There are myriad benefits for seniors to remain at home, Smith says, “including the comfort with the familiar and established supports from neighbors, friends, families, and organizations that we are a part of.”

In addition to that, she adds, there are often financial benefits to aging in place, rather than moving to a senior living facility, which can be costly. Home modifications need to be done right, but they don’t need to be budget-busters. And having a safe home is absolutely priceless.

Sources:

  1. http://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/info-2014/livable-communities-facts-and-figures.html
  2. http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html