5 essential home design ideas for aging in place
Many people want to continue enjoying their own home as they age. It’s a time when empty nests can reuse children’s rooms and rearrange them for hobbies, guests and grandchildren. Accessibility, mobility, and comfort are all top priorities, though renovations that take them into account may not all fit your budget or the design limitations of your home. To get the most out of independent living, interior design experts suggest focusing on five key aspects to creating your forever home.
1. Rethink the stairs
A one-story home may not look stately, but it’s a smart choice for families planning to age in place. If you’re buying a home, consider a ranch-style home that doesn’t have an exterior staircase from the sidewalk or driveway.
If you have a multi-level house, you will need to tackle the stairs. Install a chairlift or consider an elevator. Thanks to new technologies, the installation of an elevator no longer necessarily involves an in-depth renovation. Robin Wilson, a leading expert in sustainable design, says many of her clients reuse an existing mudroom or other space. “They choose one of the newer hydraulic or pneumatic lifts. These newer models can be installed in days, and some even use a regular electrical outlet,” she says.
2. Be smart about lighting
Increasing visibility in your home can help improve mobility and reduce tripping hazards. “As we age, less light reaches our retinas, so we need more light in our environment to prevent falls and other accidents,” says award-winning senior housing design expert Lisa M. Cini. Incorporate lamps, add skylights, and keep window treatments airy to let in lots of light.
Cini says motion sensor lighting is perfect for closets, hallways and main rooms. LEDs under the counter or bathroom cabinets and above the bathroom vanity can also provide ideal night lighting. This soft lighting does not disrupt circadian rhythms or sleep patterns.
Also, make sure outdoor walkways are well-lit by installing solar-powered lights or motion sensors with floodlights.
3. Plan for adjustable heights
Opt for height-adjustable products, such as desks for reading and accessible sinks for the kitchen. Kitchen cabinets and adjustable countertops are another convenient way to ensure that everyone in your household, regardless of age, can access hard-to-reach spaces.
Add stepladders with handrails near beds and in closets. Cini recommends a 21 inch high bed as this is the optimal height for easy entry and exit. She also says to make sure the bedside table is accessible from the bed and large enough to hold glasses, medicine and water. If the existing heirlooms aren’t to your liking, opt for modern or swing arm overbed tables.
4. Focus on the bathroom
Experts place the most emphasis on bathroom renovations when it comes to designing to age in place, as this is where slips and falls are most likely to occur. Wilson advises installing a curbless shower with a hand wand. This allows a wheelchair or walker to safely enter the shower so seniors can bathe alone longer. “The trick is to make sure the floor slopes a bit more with a deeper shower tray,” says Wilson.
The shower floor should be non-slip and the shower heads should be at wheelchair height. Both Cini and Walker agree that a wand or handheld sprayer is an easy addition that adds long-term functionality. Add grab bars for the shower, toilet and the area above the toilet. “If you’re choosing a tub, choose one you can easily step into with a side panel door,” Cini says.
5. Take advantage of technology
Check out today’s wide range of smart home upgrades to improve your home’s security and efficiency. “The latest in weather-in-place technology, like Shaw Floor’s insole with SensFloor® technology, can embed a safe and discreet sensor in the floor, alerting if someone falls, or it can simply turn on the lights once feet touch the ground,” she says. Other technologies, like automatic range shut-off, prevent cooking accidents and provide an extra layer of safety. There are also various smart home technologies that rely on voice commands, which can make everything from calling neighbors to ordering errands easier. To age safely and comfortably at home, embrace smart home technology to help ease the physical and mental burden of everyday tasks.