Tips for Aging in Place in a Two-Story Home

Aging in place in a multi-story home presents unique challenges, especially as mobility decreases with age. However, with thoughtful modifications such as stairlifts or first-floor bedroom suites, seniors can continue to live safely and comfortably in their multi-level homes.

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Tips for Aging in Place in a Two-Story Home
10 Min Read October 4th, 2023

No matter where we go, we see it, the country, for that matter, the world, is getting older. Aging brings many challenges that must be overcome to enjoy a better quality of life. One of the challenges is how to remain at home even when someone needs help and assistance. 

The demand for long-term care services, specifically assistance with daily living activities or supervision due to conditions like dementia, has steadily increased. Millions of individuals find themselves in need of such care, a number that continues to grow annually as our population ages. 

Notably, a significant portion of these individuals express a strong preference to receive care in the comfort of their own homes, which is a testament to the emotional and psychological benefits of familiar surroundings.

If you have older parents, you may have had this conversation with them already. In fact, you may have thought about how you and your spouse will address the costs and burdens of aging and how to remain independent at home as you age.

However, the desire to remain at home presents its own set of challenges, predominantly centered around the structural and functional aspects of the residence. 

Many of these homes were acquired at the prime of life and were chosen for factors other than their suitability for aging in place. As a result, many of these homes have multiple levels, making navigation difficult, especially for those with mobility issues. Stairs can pose a significant fall risk, and the presence of only one ground-floor restroom or none at all can be a significant barrier.

Age and Disability Friendly? Not Often

Additionally, many of these homes lack essential age-friendly and disability-friendly features. This includes wider doorways to accommodate wheelchairs, grab bars in bathrooms, or even single-handle faucets that are easier for arthritic hands to operate. The absence of such features complicates the process of providing in-home care. It often necessitates substantial home modifications or relocation to a more suitable environment.

The increasing trend of individuals needing long-term care and wishing to remain at home underscores the importance of forward-thinking in home design and purchase. It also highlights the necessity of broader societal and policy shifts to support the aging population in their desire to safely and comfortably age in place.

But if you or your loved one is in a home you don't want to leave, can you do anything to help remain at home? The answer is often yes.

Here are some practical tips for aging in place in a two-story home. 

Optimizing Home Safety with First-Floor Bedroom Suites and Stairlift Chairs

For many seniors, simple tasks like climbing stairs can evolve from routine tasks to daunting challenges. Mobility issues stemming from age or health conditions can make everyday activities increasingly difficult. 

Recognizing and adapting to these changes is crucial for ensuring seniors can continue to live comfortably and safely in their homes.

One effective solution is designing or renovating homes to feature first-floor bedroom suites. By situating primary living spaces – including a bedroom, bathroom, and, if possible, a small kitchenette – on the ground floor, you can dramatically reduce the need for an older adult to navigate stairs multiple times daily. This lessens the physical strain and significantly reduces the risk of potential accidents.

However, if reconfiguring a home to have a first-floor bedroom suite isn't feasible, another viable alternative is the installation of stairlift chairs. These motorized devices are designed to transport individuals safely up and down staircases, eliminating the risk of falls. Beyond just the safety aspect, stairlift chairs can also restore a sense of independence and confidence to seniors, ensuring they can access every part of their home without assistance or fear.

Incorporating such features into homes is an investment in safety and longevity, allowing seniors to age in place with dignity, comfort, and a heightened sense of security. 

Enhancing Safety with Accessible Bathroom Designs

While essential in every household, bathrooms can pose significant hazards for older adults. Given the combination of moisture, hard surfaces, and often limited space, it's no surprise that many accidents among older people occur here, often leading to hospital visits and the need for a long-term care facility. Addressing these risks with thoughtful modifications can make a world of difference in ensuring safety and comfort.

At the forefront of bathroom safety are grab bars. Strategically placing these sturdy supports near the toilet and inside the shower can provide essential stability, reducing the risk of slips. Additionally, non-slip mats, both inside the shower and on the bathroom floor, are critical in minimizing the chances of falls.

Walk-in tubs or low-threshold showers offer another layer of protection. These designs allow seniors to enter and exit bathing areas without stepping over high tub edges, which can be particularly tricky and unsafe for those with mobility challenges. Incorporating built-in seats within showers can further enhance safety, providing a comfortable and secure space for seniors to sit while they bathe.

Furthermore, adequate lighting is crucial. As vision can deteriorate with age, ensuring that bathrooms are well-lit can aid in navigation and the identification of potential hazards. Consider motion-activated or night lights to guide paths during evening visits to the bathroom.

By integrating these features into bathroom designs or renovations, seniors can maintain their independence and dignity in their daily routines, all while ensuring their safety in one of the home's most crucial spaces.

Some contractors specialize in bathroom remodeling and can offer design advice for creating an accessible bathroom that is also beautiful and bright.

Prioritizing Accessibility with Expanded Doorways

One of the key challenges many older adults and individuals with mobility concerns face within their homes is navigating through standard-sized doorways, especially when using aids like walkers or wheelchairs. Addressing this bottleneck can significantly enhance the ease of movement throughout the residence.

Expanding doorways not only accommodate mobility aids but also add a sense of spaciousness to the home. This modification aids in preventing potential injuries that could arise from bumping into door frames or struggling to maneuver through tight spaces.

However, there are alternatives for homeowners concerned about the logistics or costs of a complete doorway expansion. One such solution is the use of offset hinges. These specially designed hinges allow the door to swing clear of the frame, effectively widening the accessible space by several inches without major construction. This can often provide just the necessary clearance for walkers or wheelchairs to easily pass through.

Additionally, for homes where frequent doorway navigation is essential, consider installing sliding or pocket doors. These alternatives eliminate the swing radius altogether and can be both a stylish and functional solution.

Streamlining Home Accessibility with Ramps and Step-Free Entrances

Steps, while seemingly innocuous, can become significant obstacles for seniors or individuals with mobility issues. As our loved ones age or face physical challenges, what was once a simple step can turn into a potential hazard. Thus, creating step-free entrances becomes imperative for safety and accessibility.

Replacing steps with gently sloping ramps offers a smoother, more navigable transition between areas, both inside and outside the home. When implementing this solution, a few key considerations can make all the difference:

  • Handrails on Both Sides: Installing handrails on both sides of the ramp provides users with steady support, helping them maintain balance and confidence as they traverse the ramp.
  • Slip-Resistant Materials: Opt for materials that offer grip, even in wet conditions. Textured surfaces or specialized paints can prevent slips and falls, especially during rainy or snowy seasons.
  • Adequate Width: Ensure ramps are wide enough to comfortably accommodate wheelchairs or walkers, allowing users ample space to navigate without feeling constricted.
  • Gentle Slope: Ramps should have a gradual incline, making it easier for seniors to use without exerting too much effort. Adhering to the ADA recommendations, a 1:12 slope ratio is generally considered ideal, meaning for every inch of vertical rise, 12 inches of ramp length are required.
  • Clear Markings: For visually impaired individuals, clear edge markings can be an essential addition to delineating the boundaries of the ramp.

By prioritizing such modifications, homeowners can significantly enhance the quality of life for their elderly residents or those with mobility challenges, offering them a sense of independence and security in their daily movements.

Ensuring Even and Hazard-Free Flooring for Home Safety

As people age, seemingly minor variations in floor levels can transform into major trip hazards. While aesthetically pleasing, sunken living rooms or unexpected steps within the house often become unforeseen dangers for seniors or those with mobility challenges. Therefore, promoting even flooring becomes paramount to ensure safety and ease of movement within one's residence.

Addressing this concern involves a multi-faceted approach:

  • Eliminate Floor Variations: Transitioning all rooms to a uniform level can mitigate the risk of tripping. If full renovation isn't feasible, consider using gentle sloping ramps or threshold bridges to smooth out differences.
  • Secure Loose Rugs: Area rugs, especially those without a non-slip backing, can slide or bunch up, becoming inadvertent trip hazards. Ensure these are secured with double-sided tape or a gripper pad underneath.
  • Declutter Spaces: Over time, homes can accumulate items that might obstruct walking paths. Regularly decluttering and organizing spaces can create open pathways, reducing the chances of tripping over unexpected objects.
  • Strategic Furniture Arrangement: Place furniture in a manner that facilitates easy movement throughout the room. This might mean rethinking the layout of larger pieces, like couches and coffee tables, to enhance flow and accessibility.
  • Highlight Changes in Elevation: If certain areas of the home do have steps or changes in floor level, make sure they are clearly marked. Using contrasting color tape or paint can help draw attention to these areas, alerting residents to step carefully.

Prioritizing even and clutter-free floors ensures safer navigation for seniors or those with mobility issues and creates a more open and serene living space for everyone in the household.

Creating Senior-Friendly Kitchens for Enhanced Usability

The kitchen, often the heart of the home, should be a place of ease and enjoyment for everyone, including seniors. As mobility and strength change with age, kitchens must be adapted to meet these evolving needs while still prioritizing safety and functionality.

To optimize a kitchen for senior-friendly use:

  • Adaptable Countertops: Consider installing countertops that are lower or feature adjustable heights. This ensures individuals of all statures and abilities can comfortably prepare meals without overstraining.
  • Convenient Cabinet Design: Traditional cabinets can be difficult for seniors to access, especially those placed higher up. Integrate pull-out or rotating shelves, which bring the contents out to the user, minimizing the need for excessive reaching or bending.
  • Ergonomically-Designed Appliances: Place everyday appliances at arm's level to prevent strain. Opt for models with easy-to-read dials, buttons, and clear displays. Front-control cooktops and side-opening ovens can also prevent overreaching or bending.
  • Lever-Handled Faucets: Twist knobs can be challenging for seniors with arthritis or limited grip strength. Lever-handled or touchless faucets are easier to operate and can help prevent potential scalding.
  • Anti-Slip Flooring: Spills in the kitchen are common. Choose flooring materials that are slip-resistant, even when wet, to reduce the risk of falls.
  • Adequate Lighting: Ensure that all workspaces are well-lit. Consider under-cabinet lighting or adjustable pendant lights above counters and stoves. This not only enhances visibility but also adds a touch of ambiance to the space.

By making these thoughtful adjustments, kitchens can remain a joyous space where seniors can cook, gather, and relish meals without worrying about accessibility or safety issues.

Being Prepared

Preparing for a loved one aging in place in a two-story home requires thoughtful modifications. By focusing on accessibility and safety, caregivers can help seniors maintain their independence while ensuring their comfort and well-being. These changes not only allow seniors to continue living in the home they love but also provide peace of mind for caregivers.

Home modifications designed to facilitate aging in place are proactive steps toward preserving a loved one's autonomy and dignity. With careful planning and execution, caregivers and family members can transform any two-story house into a safer environment that supports the needs and lifestyles of our aging loved ones.

Funding Home Modifications

Home modifications can vary widely in cost depending on the complexity and extent of changes needed. Simple adjustments, such as adding grab bars in bathrooms or securing loose rugs, can be relatively inexpensive, often costing between $100 to $500. However, more extensive modifications like installing a stairlift chair or a ramp can range from $2,000 to $15,000, depending on materials and labor. 

Widening doorways for wheelchair accessibility might cost anywhere from $800 to $2,500 per doorway. Similarly, fully remodeling a bathroom to be senior-friendly, with features like walk-in tubs or roll-in showers, can set homeowners back anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000. While these costs might seem substantial, they are investments in long-term safety and independence, allowing older adults to remain in their familiar environments for as long as possible.

Money from savings or even a reverse mortgage can help pay for these costs. Those who own a Long-Term Care Insurance policy may have tax-free benefits to help pay for some of these costs.

Many Long-Term Care Insurance policies offer benefits that go beyond merely covering care services. One significant advantage is that many policies can contribute towards home modifications, making a policyholder's house more accessible and safe as they age. 

However, there's a critical caveat: these benefits are only available to those with the foresight to secure an LTC Insurance policy before needing care. If your older family members don't have a policy already, their health will probably prevent them from obtaining coverage. LTC Insurance is something usually purchased in your 40s or 50s, although some people can qualify for coverage in their 60s and 70s, depending on their health.

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About the Author

Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.

LTC News Contributor Mallory Knee

Mallory Knee

Contributor since September 25th, 2020

Editor's Note

As individuals approach retirement, there's often a strong desire to ensure that their later years are comfortable and familiar. For many, this means remaining in their own homes for as long as possible. Think about this for a moment -- would you want to stay home when you get older? 

The reality of aging and potential health challenges can make it complicated. That's where Long-Term Care Insurance plays a crucial role. When you have an LTC policy, you will have access to your choice of quality care services, including in-home care. You get to remain in control, reducing the burden on your family and protecting assets as well.

Incorporating LTC Insurance into a comprehensive retirement plan is a wise move. Having a policy that can adapt a home to evolving needs means that the transition into later life stages can be smoother and more aligned with individual desires and comfort. Most LTC policies include benefits for home modifications, making staying home easier. 

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