2011-01-20 / Features

Making Your Home Senior-Friendly

More than 70 million Baby Boomers are on the edge of retirement, and many are hoping to stay in their own homes as they age. For this group, now is the time to remodel or tweak potentially dangerous areas in the home - such as the kitchen and bathroom - to ensure they are easy to navigate and won’t present safety hazards later in life.

“There are a few simple changes homeowners can implement over time — without breaking the bank — to make their homes secure for later years, says Eric McRoberts, head of the American Institute of Architects’ Design for Aging committee. “And you don’t have to sacrifice style.”

Eliminate hazards

One of the most difficult parts of aging in place is determining what will be dangerous later in life. You can start by canvassing your home for uneven floor surfaces, steps and doors that open into small spaces, like closets or bathrooms. Imagine navigating these areas when you have limited mobility or even a walker, and you will begin to see where difficulties may occur.

There are solutions to help. For example, if your home contains both carpet and hardwood flooring, install transition strips to tack down places where these surfaces meet. Also, replace swinging doors with pocket doors, which pull out from the wall, allowing more room to navigate and privacy when needed.

McRoberts also recommends adopting Europeanstyle shower designs, where the shower is separated from the rest of the bathroom only by a small rubber curb. Eliminating steps into tubs reduces the possibility of slips and falls.

All within reach

At older ages, certain motions (like reaching up or bending down) can put unnecessary stress on joints and cause injury. To mitigate this risk, McRoberts suggests adopting universal design – small design adjustments and basic retrofits that make everything in a room easily accessible.

For example, turn cabinets into drawers. An architect can help in designing a facade that still looks like a cabinet door, but actually has shelves that slide out, eliminating the need to reach inside. Or consider raising or lowering shelves, eradicating the need to bend and stretch.

Similarly, putting appliances like front- loading washers and dryers on one, easy-to-reach level will reduce risks. McRoberts advises that an architect can help devise solutions, such as putting appliances on pedestals, to keep everything at one level.

While not an overt safety measure, “greening” your home saves money, a definite plus for retirees living on a fixed budget.

While solar panel installation may not be an option for everyone, simpler solutions, such as ensuring all windows are properly sealed, will minimize heating and cooling costs. Landscaping may also help. Thoughtful placement of shady trees and wind-reducing shrubs can naturally help regulate indoor temperatures.

To find an architect who can help you make your home senior friendly, visit ArchitectFinder. aia.org.

With a few smart design moves, you can make life easier and help ensure your good health so you can enjoy the important things in life.

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