America is facing an aging population. Every day, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65. By 2030, there will be more than 71.5 million Americans age 65 and older – 20 percent of our nation’s population! Target markets are shifting to accommodate these demographics, and thank goodness, this includes housing!
Like many people, my husband and I may not have considered our senior years when we bought our house. What were we thinking when we bought a three-level house with steps at every entrance? Now we are exploring how we can modify our house into an age-friendly home. In addition to some major remodeling, there are many low-cost changes we can make, as well. One great tool to evaluate your existing home is available at aarp.org – search for “HomeFit Guide” to see what updates and renovations might accommodate your current and future situation.
The good news is that many of those changes are appropriate for all ages! Features that are good for seniors are also helpful for young families, including parents of toddlers and large families. Universal or age-friendly designs can be subtle both aesthetically and financially. The designs may even increase the value of your property!
If you are lucky enough to design your own home, consider at least one entry point with a wide entrance and no steps – helpful for navigating strollers, walkers and wheelchairs, as well as carrying in groceries, etc.
Door Handles and Locks
When building a home or redesigning an existing home, consider a lever-handled front door; a keyless combination-type lock is great whether your arms are full because you are carrying an infant or whether your hands are sore from arthritis.
Motion-sensor lights that automatically come on when you enter the room or reach a staircase provide visibility and reduce the risk of falls. Other low-cost options include rocker light switches that can be activated by bumping them with an elbow or fist. Consider placing light switches – and thermostats – about 42-48 inches from the floor so they are accessible whether standing or in a wheelchair.
For the Bathroom
There are many options available for the bathroom and kitchen that make life easier and more convenient for homeowners of all ages. Replace faucet knobs that have to be turned with single-handle levers that can easily be turned on and off by both children and older adults.
Raised toilet seats are useful for anyone with mobility issues. Seat height can be adjusted through a seat extension, available at pharmacies, health equipment stores and even department stores.
Grip bars are another low-cost but high-value modification. Place them by the toilet and shower or tub. They can double as a towel bar. If you’re planning to remodel your bathroom, consider installing a roll-in shower without a step for wheelchair accessibility, and a molded shower seat. Ladies will love the feature as they sit to shave their legs or bathe a child! Later, it can be helpful for someone needing assistance with showering.
For the Kitchen
Look for D-shaped kitchen drawer and cabinet pulls that provide easy access. Double-level counter tops are a stylish option, and under-cabinet lighting is practical as well as pretty. Cabinets designed with pull-out drawers are helpful as well.
Storage spaces can be designed with adjustable shelving to make items easier to reach. Refrigerators with French doors with the freezer on the bottom for easier access are popular. Many seniors enjoy stoves with the controls on the front or along the side so they are not reaching across the hot burners to turn them on and off. They even make microwaves that pull out as a drawer at waist level and ovens with retractable doors.
If you are designing a home, put the main floor on one level with wide hallways – 5.5 feet. Not only will that provide room for a toddler learning to walk by herself or holding the hand of another, it is helpful for an older adult who shuffles or struggles with balance. Wide hallways ensure that a person on crutches or in a wheelchair can easily move throughout the home. Low-nap carpeting, matte tile or hardwood are excellent flooring options to avoid tripping hazards or to ensure that wheelchairs can travel more smoothly.
Importance of Single Level
Even if the home has more than one level, look for designs that have at least one bedroom, laundry facilities and a full bathroom on the main floor. In early years, the bedroom can serve as a study or craft room but can be turned into a bedroom as needed later. Installing chair lifts and elevators are choices some make as well. (I learned the value of this after breaking my ankle. I looked up the 17 steps to my bedroom and decided the couch really was comfortable enough!)
Many people choose modification to their homes in later years; others may choose to live in retirement communities where amenities are included in the pricing. Other enjoyable benefits include living in a community of neighbors with similar interests, such as golfing, fishing or even theatre! Some communities welcome children and grandchildren and even offer playgrounds for them. Look for communities that offer activities to keep residents engaged, with public transportation options and convenient shopping. Independent living communities, like age-friendly housing, promote an active lifestyle, while also offering social opportunities such as shared meals in a dining area and group activities in a safe living environment.
Assisted living offers more personalized assistance for their residents, including help with medications, meals, light housekeeping, laundry and personal hygiene if needed. Like the others, there are plenty of opportunities for activities and outings!
When choosing how and where you wish to spend your retirement years, there are more options than ever before. Ask yourself how you want to spend those years, how you wish to set up your home, what your healthcare choices will be, what types of assistance you prefer, your wishes for major life events and financial considerations. Share this outline with a trusted advisor and design your life as well as your home!