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As more baby boomers join the ranks of seniors, the need for senior-accessible homes is skyrocketing. According to AARP, the majority of seniors today are choosing to remain home and age in place. If this is your desire as well, know that planning is key. Even if you currently have no health or mobility issues, it’s critical that you plan ahead vs. waiting until you’re in crisis mode. Whether you decide to buy a senior-accessible home or modify your current home, you are smart to act now. Below are tips on the ins and outs of finding the perfect living space for you -- today and tomorrow.
What Makes a Home Senior Friendly?
The main goal of a senior-friendly home is having it fit your abilities, so you can stay independent as long as possible, if not for the rest of your life. Because falls are a top reason why older adults lose independence and mobility, many modifications are with that in mind. AARP offers tips and downloadable worksheets that take you step by step through your house and provide specific changes to help keep you safe and comfortable. Typical modifications are:
- Having smooth floors such as hardwood to eliminate trip hazards and to accommodate wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers.
- Installing a wheelchair accessible ramp outside or in the garage, along with handrails and grab bars in areas where falls are likely.
- In the bathroom, consider having a threshold-free (curbless) shower and/or step-in bathtub, along with weight-bearing handrails. Shower seats are also recommended, as well as moveable showerheads. A higher toilet is a plus, too.
- Removing thresholds from doorways to make passing through them easier and to prevent tripping. If it’s not possible to remove them, you can purchase ramps that make it easier to get over them.
- Doorways must be wide enough for wheelchairs. Countertops and cabinets should be accessed comfortably from a wheelchair, which sometimes means having them lowered.
- Lever-style door handles that are more senior-friendly than door knobs. Using levered faucets in the kitchen sink are best as well.
- In the garden, raised beds that are 18-24 inches high are recommended. Standing planters and planters that are 30-36 inches tall are also an excellent solution for those with mobility issues.
What Are Smart Home Advantages?
Being a senior isn’t what it used to be! Today we have smart homes that feature a myriad of accessibility technologies. Voice-command systems can do things like control lights, lock doors, control lights, operate a telephone or use a computer. Home automation allows you to set a schedule for automatic tasks like watering the lawn, relieving you of the need to do these tasks on a regular basis.
Plan Today Vs. Tomorrow
Without a plan for aging in place, it can be hard to stay in control of your life. As Diane Masson, senior housing expert and author says, “Seniors fall into one of two categories; either they are planning ahead, or they are waiting for a health care crisis to happen. . . If you wait too long, then you end up moving into assisted living or skilled nursing.”
As you plan for your future, identify your priorities. Are they:
- Being close to friends and family?
- Living near public transportation?
- Being close to state-of-the-art medical care?
While it may seem overwhelming to move or modify your home, there are programs and organizations that can help, such as:
- The US Department of Veterans Affairs
- Rebuilding Together AmeriCorps
- The Rural Housing Repair Loans and Grants program
- The American Red Cross
- The Individual Adaptive Equipment Grant from the Travis Roy Foundation
- The Self-Sufficiency Grant from ModestNeeds.Org
- The Assisted Living Conversion for Eligible Multifamily Housing Projects (ACLP)
Also, if you plan on house hunting for a home that’s already senior accessible, a realtor who is knowledgeable and experienced in assisting seniors is invaluable.
Congratulations on taking this step toward a more comfortable and independent future. Not only will you be improving your quality of life, but you’ll also have added value in your home. Best of all, your accessible home will protect your health, finances and level of independence along with your family’s peace of mind for years to come.