Whether due to the ever-increasing cost of assisted living facilities and nursing homes, or simply the desire to remain in comfortable surroundings as long as possible, remodeling the home with aging in place was a common theme at the Atlanta Home Show. In addition to vendors with all types of remodeling and home decor, representatives from the National Aging in Place Council and occupational therapists were on hand to help discuss ways to make your home accessible for seniors or those with disabilities. Many of the ideas they shared were not only affordable but also attractive remodeling ideas.
For many, the ability to prepare meals is one of the most important aspects of independence. The kitchen can also be one of the most difficult rooms to navigate from a wheelchair or with a walking device. Because we spend so much time in our kitchens, organization and lighting are also important factors.
What to do now: If you are making plans for accessibility needs down the road, there are some changes you can make to your kitchen now that will benefit you for the years to come. Consider giving your cabinets an update with slide-out drawers and shelves. Instead of having your pots, pans, lids and bakeware stacked, which may require you to get onto your knees to find what you need, slide-out shelving can be retrofitted into your current cabinets and keep everything within arms reach. Consider lights under your cabinets so that all work areas are easy to see.
What to plan for later: One of the biggest problem areas of the kitchen is the height of the countertops and sinks. If you or your spouse needs to use a wheelchair, it can be impossible to work in the kitchen without some alterations. Consider planning for at least one low counter that has no cabinet underneath, so that a chair could be placed in front of the counter with the knees under it. This will provide a safe workspace that doesn't require working sideways from a chair.
The bathroom tends to be one of the areas of the home people prefer to wait until necessary to make changes to. An accessible bathroom doesn't have to look like a hospital bathroom any longer. In fact, recent remodeling trends for the bathroom are very easy to adapt for accessibility.
What to do now: If your bathroom is need of a remodel, occupational therapists suggest you consider the very popular European-style showers. These showers do not have a lip but rather are flush with the floor. This design makes it possible for a wheelchair to roll right in. Most have a bench seat as part of the design, meaning you won't have to have unattractive medical shower seats. You do not have to install grab bars now, but the designs allow for the metal plates to already be in place so the grab bars can be added quickly when they are needed.
What to plan for later: Another finishing touch that can make the bathroom more accessible is to install motion-activated faucets on the sink and install a commode with a motion sensor or easy-to-push handle for flushing. Because most bathrooms have limited space, reaching handles can be difficult from a sitting position.
The rest of the home
Some aspects of the home can be remodeled as the need approaches to make your home accessible. However, there are some simple adjustments to keep in mind as you repair and update your home that can save you some headaches down the road and help you prepare for your golden years.
Few people want to think about the idea of being unable to access the second story of the home; however, if you have a two-story home, it should be discussed. One option is to relocate the master bedroom and bathroom to the main floor. Another popular option is to set aside the funds to install a chair lift for the stairs, so that the second story maintains its accessibility.
Consider the flooring in your home when planning for aging in place. Hardwood floors can cause slips and falls. Throw rugs are a common cause of falls in the home as well and should be secured to the floor. Heavy weight, low pile carpet is often the safest choice for accessibility, as it prevents slips and is easy for a wheelchair or walker to move across.
Other simple updates can be done to the home that will make it more convenient now and accessible later. Consider replacing doorknobs with lever style door handles that don't require a firm grip to open. Make sure garage doors have automatic garage door openers.
Lighting is often a challenge as we age, as harsh glares and deep shadows can cause difficulties. Consider adjustable lighting, make sure hallways and stairs have ample light and place all switches no higher than 48 inches off the ground. Even painting the walls with a textured paint or wallpaper can reduce glare.