Remodelling a Home for Later Life
At each stage in our lives, we engage in different activities and lifestyles. We go from high-energy romping about as kids, to wanting a more comfortable, cosy atmosphere at home as adults. Our living spaces go through equally dramatic changes to reflect our needs at each new phase. With an aging population worldwide, and the UK finding itself home to 20 million householders aged 55 and over, remodelling for the future of our families becomes a valid concern. Here are ten things to keep in mind when considering renovating your parents’ or grandparents’ home to make sure they are comfortable and safe.
Brighter Homes are Better
A person’s vision lowers with age. At age 75, one needs four times as much light as at age 20 to have the same quality of vision. Since age brings frailty as well, lots of bright lighting spread across the most popular rooms in the house minimises chance for injury. Recessed lights may be a welcome addition in rooms with a single overhead light source. Furthermore, for corners and stairwells, stick-on lights are becoming more and more popular to avoid nasty falls.
Ensuring rooms are well lit additionally reduces cast shadows and dark spaces in corners. This is especially helpful for patients of dementia, an unfortunately common illness onset at old age.
Make Everywhere Easily Accessible
Ah yes, stairs.... A necessity in homes that have more than one floor, but a known hazard to anyone with mobility issues, due to tripping concerns and undue stress on aging joints. To counteract the constant climbing up and down, consider relocating the main rooms of the house to the ground floor. This eliminates the need for seniors to take the stairs daily, whilst also keeping the majority of the house (and the action) easily accessible to them.
If this cannot be done, there are fortunately several ways to overcome the challenges that stairs bring. Consider a chairlift that can take them between floors with ease, or alternatively, an elevator. In-house lifts are a pricey investment, but if resale comes around, they can dramatically increase property value.
With the wide variety of flooring types to choose from, it’s wise to evaluate each for the purpose it serves a senior home. Creating a home that is safe for later life living is minimising the risk of falling. First and foremost, the material you choose must be soft to reduce fall damage. Carpet is a good choice, but does not factor in its allergy potential, and also the difficulty to clean it.
For most living areas – except places water will be splashed around – cork is a popular new choice. It is soft, porous, and non-slippery. The only problems with cork begin when it is in contact with water, and then vinyl is a good alternative. Being near perfect, the only anecdotal complaint about vinyl is how it feels cold-to-the-touch. However, if you tell everyone to keep their warm slippers on at home, this becomes a non-issue. Rubber is also another equally good flooring material, but is often overlooked for its higher price point.
Extra Support with Bars and Handles
An unfortunate reality of aging is the onset of arthritis, which leads to formerly easy tasks seeming like massive chores. To combat it, swap all round or rotating door knobs on room and cabinet doors out for lever-style handles. These put a lot less strain on the wrist joint and mean greater ease in accessing rooms or storage around the house.
Similarly, replace twist-style taps to lever-style – to give those tired joints a break.
Aging also brings instability and lack of sureness in one’s own footing. Grab bars at hip height across the house greatly reduce the risk of a fall. They are most valuable flanking a flight of stairs, and must be sturdy enough to support the weight of a falling person (and potentially save them from harm.)
Rethinking the Bathroom
With slippery tiles and water splashing about, it’s no surprise that the bathroom and toilet are some of the most dangerous places in the home for those with disability or limited mobility. The potential to slip and fall is huge, hence making remodelling these rooms your #1 priority.
One important change would be elevating the height of the toilet. For most people in later life – wheelchair users especially – it is a lot easier to get on and off an elevated toilet seat. This is due to needing to use less lower body strength. Elevated toilets are also easy to install, but can end up making a world of difference.
For the slippery floors, a traction-slip on the tiles and in the bath can reduce chances of slipping enormously. Or, to eliminate the dangers that come with standing, a shower chair will come in handy. To take it one step further, albeit pricey, you can also look into installing a walk-in tub.
Level out the Kitchen
The kitchen is where a lot of time is spent day in and day out. An immediate, fun change you can make at home is to paint around the edges of countertops to clearly indicate where they end, so nobody drops anything onto the floor by accident.
Some other helpful changes require a little more professional intervention, such as elevating all light switches to waist-height to eliminate the need for bending, or to making sure all countertops are level.
When shopping for appliances, it’s a good idea to get rid of overhead microwaves and ovens, and have them accessible and in line with the countertops. As for the fridge, double doors make it a lot easier for all to open as opposed to their single door counterpart (unless keeping Dad out of the fridge was your goal in the first place!)
Less Upkeep, Safer Seniors
When we are younger, we take our ability to do small daily things for granted. However, think about the everyday routines of your parents and grandparents, and identify activities which might pose a safety risk. Changing light bulbs is one such example. Swapping to LED bulbs ensures that they will last for at least 50,000 hours. This is approximately 50 times longer than a typical incandescent, 20-25 times longer than a typical halogen, and 8-10 times longer than a typical CFL. That’s about 12 years!
Lights aren’t the only things that might need frequent changing around the house. Consider investing in building materials – both indoor and outdoor – that are good at withstanding wear and tear, such as durable rubber flooring, or metal roofing for the house. The less time our families have to spend worrying about how to change that one high-up lightbulb, or replace that one roof shingle, the better.
Call in the Professionals
There are some things you just cannot complete at home. That’s where professionals can help renovate your home to better accommodate the needs of senior living. Some key, common requests are the widening of doorways for wheelchair access, and also the installation of wheelchair ramps alongside any outdoor stairs leading to the porch or veranda.
Do it Yourself
Luckily, there are a lot of things that you can do yourself to better support senior living. Some quick-fix examples are adding colourful strips on the edges of stairs to make them more visible, or beginning a habit of tightening fixtures around the home to ensure they do not come undone.
If you can, consider taking the smart-home route. Being able to voice-activate lights is instrumental when mobility is compromised, and the additional benefits of a smart home will come trickling in as soon as you make the swap. Plus, get ready for the many hours of family fun you’ll have trying to teach grandma and grandpa what ‘Alexa’ is.
And there you have it! There are a lot of things to consider when embarking on the journey to remodel a home for later in life, but these ten points of consideration are a good place to start. Do you have any success stories about your own senior living renovations? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!