Senior Friendly Home Additions
Your house is more than bricks, wood, and metal—it's your home, and you want to stay there for the rest of your life. Thanks to the numerous senior-friendly additions available today, you can make sure your house is your home for a lifetime.
Locate risk areas
Your home probably has a few places that have always been risky. Whether it's a step that leans a little too far to one side or a doorway with an elevated threshold, these are the first areas you should address when making your home more senior-friendly.
Some common problem areas are:
- Bathrooms: Many bathrooms have tubs that are too high or showers that have an edge that are not comfortable or safe to step over.
- Doorways: The threshold of a doorway should generally be flush with the ground on either side, but this isn't always the case.
- Kitchens: Worn-down or slippery tile can be difficult to navigate safely, and stovetops, ovens, and other outdated appliances are not always user-friendly or safe.
- Stairways: Not only can it be exhausting to go up and down those steps over and over every day, steep staircases also present a dangerous fall risk for seniors.
Each home is unique, so there may be areas you're not comfortable in that aren't mentioned here. Once you've figured out where your specific risk areas are, you can start making plans to fix them.
Easy home additions to enhance safety
There are a number of additions that can be made to a home to make it more senior-friendly, and help eliminate or work around the dwelling's risk areas. Whether you're looking for easier mobility or more comfort, there's usually something that can be done to make your life easier and let you continue to live where you're happiest.
Some common additions include:
- Stair lifts: For seniors who have mobility issues or who live in bi-level homes that don't cater to their needs, a stair lift is a great addition that can make everyday life easier. Going up and down the stairs can be exhausting and dangerous for an aging adult, but stair lifts turn this chore into a simple sit-down task that eliminates the risk of falling down a steep staircase.
- Home elevators: Residential elevators are great for homes that have three or more stories. Although a home elevator might seem extravagant, it doesn't have to be, and can offer ease of mobility like nothing else. These elevators can be designed large enough to house a wheelchair, power chair or scooter, allowing you to use your preferred mobility device on every level of your home.
- New fixtures: The process of making a home more senior-friendly should also include changing out certain fixtures, such as light switches and doorknobs, to ones that are easier to reach, grasp and use. Try using rocker switches for your lights and replacing round doorknobs with lever handles instead.
The pathway into many homes has cracked sidewalks and uneven surfaces. This creates danger zones. Repave and reconstruct level, smooth surfaces to for easier mobility.
- Add non-slip flooring in the entryway inside the home.
- Outside the home, add non-slip strips or scuff the surface to create improved footing.
- Repair uneven or cracked areas on the walkway toward the home
- If you can, create a no-rise entry with ramps.
- If you must have stairs, install rails on both sides of the stairs. These should be at least one-and-a-half inch in diameter to accommodate aging grips
- Increase stair visibility by using contrast strips on top and bottom stairs. Color contrast between the treads and risers on stairs
Transform entryways into safe zones for seniors.
- Multitasking is a recipe for disaster. Create an area for your bundles and packages both inside and outside your home. Use the surface when coming and going to keep your hands free and your balance high when coming and going.
- Make sure there is at least one covered entryway into the home. You want at least one area completely protected from the elements.
A room with a view makes a difference. Better lighting will keep your loved one safe.
- Increase lighting at all entry areas.
- Add motion-sensor lights focused on ramps and stairs. Also, point lighting at the front and back door locks
Older adults deserve a functional kitchen they will adore. Your goal is to increase accessibility and prevent bending and crouching. If you can improve the room's aesthetics as well, that's a double bonus.
First, manual dexterity decreases as we age. So make the appliances work for them, not the other way around.
- Switch to kitchen appliances with easy-to-read controls and simple-to-use push button interfaces.
- Convert to a side swing or wall oven. This will allow for easy access to the oven and make sure seniors don't need to lift heavy items over the hot door.
- Microwave drawers or pantry installs are a great addition to the aging in place home. They allow for easier access and increase your countertop real estate.
Next, ensure there is easy access to the items in the pantry.
- Change to an open shelving design for easier access to frequently used items.
- Convert to glass cabinet doors so your loved one can identify items without effort.
- Use Lazy Susans and roll out trays to create increased accessibility.
Then, focus on faucets. You want to make sinks easier to use and keep safe from water burns.
- Install pressure-balanced valves to provide water at steady temperatures regardless of pressure fluctuations.
- Take the next step and set the hot water heater temperature to 120 degrees.
- Insulate any exposed hot water pipes.
- Convert to a single lever kitchen faucet and install pedal-controlled faucets for easier use.
Create a Bathroom This Side of Paradise
Safe accessible bathrooms don't just happen. You will need to tackle the washroom to keep your loved one independent and protected at home.
Here are some ideas to consider when remodeling a bathroom specially designed for an aging senior.
- Bathtub/shower – Walk-in tubs are one of the best bathtubs for seniors, given the many safety features they include. Most walk-in tubs include safety bars/railings, seating, and non-slip floors. All walk-in bathtubs are lower to the ground, which makes entering and exiting the tub a breeze that requires little effort. Make sure to browse different tub options to get the best deal and the most features. Some walk-in tubs may not include other features such as a fixed showerhead, handheld showerhead with adjustable settings, or whirlpool jets (for relaxation). When shopping for a walk-in tub or shower, be sure to consider these features before purchasing the tub. add slip-prevention flooring throughout the bathroom and shower area. Non-skid bath mats, non-slip strips in the bath and shower or stable secure bathmats with non-slip rug tape all work. Be careful; many cheap bathmats are not non-slip and may increase the risk of falling. Quality, sturdy products are available at your local hardware store.
- Toilet – Install a senior-friendly toilet, (usually called comfort-height toilets) 18” – 19” which will give the senior freedom to raise and lower their body weight with minimal effort. A special lift chair is also available to assist in the lifting and lowering of an individual.
- Height adjustments – Making small adjustments such as lowering the sink or toilet can make a substantial difference in a senior’s comfort level within their bathroom. Just remember, if the senior uses a wheelchair, you’ll want to make sure to include enough knee clearance so they can comfortably get to and from the sink.
- Providing extra safety – Install grab bars throughout the bathroom where they are needed most. Place a handrail next to the toilet, bathtub, or shower. Basically, install grab bars wherever a senior would need additional leverage to pull themselves up. Use U-shaped, vertical or angle bars rather than diagonal bars. Diagonal bars create hand slippage and may increase the risk of falls. Add back bracing to the walls where you use grab bars. Ensure you can support 250-300 pounds.
- Emergency Alert Systems Another interesting feature that could be of great use to a senior is a telephone line or alert system in the bathroom, just in case. Having an available resource to contact people for help, when in need, could prevent serious injuries in the bathroom.
- Light fixtures – Seniors typically have impaired vision, so replacing the light fixtures will eliminate shadows and unnecessary prevent bumps and bruises. One other great idea for brightening a bathroom is a vanity mirror.
Make bath time a time for peace and quiet. For many seniors, sitting on the bath floor is hard and standing in the slippery shower is risky.
- Add a fold-down seat or bench in the shower. Some come with padded backs for extra comfort. Others will have a structure that extends outside the tub for easy bath entrance/exit
- Install hand-held, adjustable height, shower heads with a six-foot hose to direct the water where its best needed
- Home builders design showers for younger eyes. Add extra lighting in the shower stall for the senior user.