Q: Most seniors want to “age in place” but their current homes do not fit their current physical needs. Do you have any suggestions about what they should consider if downsizing or remodeling?

A: There are many issues that should be considered when building or remodeling for this aging population. But rather than have a novice in this field talk about what must be considered I turned to an architect-designer, who I know very well, and asked him to respond. Here are a few of the things he had to say …

Age changes many things, even where we live. As age takes its toll, as abilities grow more limited, homes that have been accommodating havens for decades grow less friendly.

Doorknobs and cabinet pulls become harder for arthritic hands to open. Doors and hallways are too narrow for wheelchairs. Climbing stairs with high narrow steps becomes an ordeal. Hauling wet towels from a top-loading washing machine can demand arm strength no longer available.

The usual home today is built for the average able-bodied adult. These homes are built for people who can run up and down stairs and who have no physical problems. But as America’s aged population grows larger designers and builders are rethinking their approach.

They are paying more attention to “aging-in-place” or universal-design homes accessible for everyone regardless of age or physical ability. Universal-design homes will work for young couples raising children and later, when they are older and their children have grown and gone, they can still live in and enjoy the same home they have become comfortable in over the years.

The effects of aging must be taken into account. Most homes are two-stories with bedrooms and bathrooms on the second floor. If a person, young or old, has an injury or disability it is difficult, if not impossible, to climb the stairs. Where will they sleep — in the living room? Where will they bathe? An all on-one-floor home makes everything accessible to all who live there, young or old, able or disabled.

Most stairs are too steep to easily climb and too narrow to come down. Stair risers should be lower and stair treads should be wider. Bathrooms are usually the most inaccessible rooms in the house. The doors are too narrow for wheelchairs to enter and toilets lack side access and steadying grab bars.

Correcting these and other shortcomings allow aging homeowners to stay longer in their homes and not be forced into a nursing home or care facility.

Typical modifications to make a home accessible for seniors include adding ramps in place of stairs, refitting bathrooms, using nonslip finishes for floors, widening doorways, replacing doorknobs and cabinet pulls and changing lighting. An 80-year-old needs five times more light to read by than a 20-year-old needs.

The cost of such retrofits can be high — but building such features into new homes in the first place makes the cost much less.

… well I think his answer is much better than one I could have provided and gives us a few things to think about. Whether we are redoing a home we are currently living in or planning to move and looking for a new home, we should consider what we are capable of doing and then act accordingly.

Let’s hope we can all “age in place” in a home that is comfortable and familiar to us.

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