One of the most critical choices each of us will make as we age is the housing choice. Deciding where and how you want to live in your senior years can make or break your retirement plan. If you prepare properly and truly plan ahead, you stand much better odds of living out your retirement years on your terms. Sadly, by contrast, if you ignore the need to plan and prepare, a poor housing choice can disrupt your dreams and even force you prematurely into institutional care.
We thought of that dilemma as we read this recent article from an unusual source: Better Homes and Gardens. This famous magazine is usually associated with custom makeovers and elegant design concepts, but as their readership ages, we suspect the BHG editors have realized the questions that are uppermost in many people’s minds: “How can I modify my home in a way that makes it possible to age in place? Can the home that I love truly be comfortable, stylish, and safe as I grow older?”?
Your Forever Home: Accessibility, Mobility, Comfort
The Better Homes and Gardens piece was written by reporter Nafeesah Allen. Allen begins by pointing out that many people choose to stay in their own homes as they get older, but not all of them make the preparations necessary to ensure a safe dwelling.
“This is a time when empty nesters can repurpose kids’ rooms and retrofit them for hobbies, guests, and grandkids,” she writes. “Accessibility, mobility, and comfort are all top priorities, though renovations that account for these might not all fit within your budget or the layout limitations of your home.”
To make your independent living truly independent, Allen brings us these five expert tips:
Tip #1: Rethink Stairs
If a single-floor home doesn’t sound impressive enough to you, and wedded to the idea of the classic two-story, you might want to reconsider. Allen writes, “If you’re purchasing a home, consider a ranch-style house that doesn’t have exterior stairs from the sidewalk or driveway.” Navigating stairs – both inside and out – is a huge potential hazard as we age. According to one online source, in an average year, nearly 1.1 million people in the US suffer from a staircase-related injury.
But what if your home already has stairs? Believe it or not, there’s a solution. Allen suggests, “Install a chair lift or consider an elevator. With new technology, installing an elevator does not have to spell an extensive renovation.”
According to Robin Wilson, a leading expert on sustainable design, many people choose to repurpose an old closet or some other existing space to create room for an in-home elevator. “They select one of the newer elevators that are hydraulic or pneumatic. These newer models are able to be installed in a few days and some even use a regular electric outlet,” she says.
Tip #2: Get Smart about Lighting
Good lighting is crucial to prevent tripping hazards and enhance mobility. Lisa Cini, an award-winning senior living design expert, told Better Homes and Gardens, “As we age, less light reaches our retinas, so we need more light in our surroundings to avoid falls and other accidents.” Because of this, Allen suggests that you “incorporate lamps, add skylights, and keep window treatments airy to let in plenty of light.”
Motion sensor lighting is perfect for closets, hallways, and main rooms, according to Cini, along with LEDs under the bathroom counter or cabinets and over the bathroom vanity for night lighting. “This soft lighting doesn’t disturb circadian rhythms or sleep patterns,” Allen writes.
For safety’s sake, don’t forget lighting on the outside of your home. As Cini advises, “Additionally, ensure exterior pathways are well-lit by installing solar lights or motion sensors with spotlights.”
Tip #3: Plan for Adjustable Heights
When it comes to buying new desks, sinks, or other surfaces, Allen suggests picking height-adjustable options. “Adjustable kitchen cabinets and countertops are another practical way to ensure that every member of your household, regardless of age, can access hard-to-reach spaces,” she writes. (Adjustable kitchen work surfaces are increasingly available, as we learned with a quick online search.)
Cini also recommends adding step stools with handrails by beds and in closets. When choosing a bed, ensure that the sleep surface is at least 21 inches tall for ease of getting in and out. Allen also writes, “make sure the nightstand is accessible from the bed and large enough to hold glasses, medications, and water. If the existing heirlooms aren’t a good fit, go for modern overbed or swing-arm tables.”
Tip #4: Focus on the Bathroom
The bathroom is the highest point of emphasis for many experts when it comes to aging in place, mainly because so many slips and falls are possible here. “Wilson advises installing a curbless shower with a hand wand,” Allen writes. “This allows a wheelchair or walker safely into the shower so that elders can bathe alone for longer.”
Wilson adds, “The trick [with curbless design] is to ensure that the floor slopes a bit more with a deeper shower pan.”
Non-slip flooring in the shower and wheelchair-height shower knobs are a must, and experts agree that a hand wand or sprayer is a perfect investment: both easy to install and functional long-term. Grab bars for the shower, toilet, and area over the toilet are ideal, too.
Fortunately, those who prefer a bathtub can still have that option and do it safely. “If you choose a tub,” Cini says, “select one that you can get into easily with a side-panel door.”
Tip #5: Take Advantage of Technology
Smart home technology is becoming more and more accessible, and can provide all kinds of features for those hoping to age in place. Cini explains, “The newest aging-in-place technology, like Shaw Floor’s Sole with SensFloor® technology, can incorporate a safe and discreet sensor in the flooring, alerting if someone falls, or it can simply turn on the lights once feet hit the floor.”
Allen adds, “Other technologies, like an automatic shut-off for the stove, prevent cooking accidents and provide an added layer of safety. There are also various smart-home technologies that rely on voice commands, which can facilitate everything from calling neighbors to ordering groceries.”
Here at AgingOptions, we want to make certain your choice to age in place is a safe one. There are several design checklists available online to help you make your house a perfect haven for aging in place. This is a good example from a website called 2020spaces.com.
My Life, My Plan, My Way: Get Started on the Path to Retirement Success
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Photo Credit: www.homeadvisor.com
(originally reported at www.bhg.com)