More seniors are choosing to stay in their homes as they age. According to a study by the AARP, only 5 percent of Americans ages 65 and older live in group quarters such as nursing homes.
From narrow hallways to steep stairs, design elements in typical houses can make remaining at home difficult in the golden years. However, basic upgrades, such as handrails and ramps, can go a long way toward making homes safer for seniors.
There are other small senior-friendly changes that can even make homes more environmentally friendly and lead to lower utility bills.
“The aging process can be gradual for some; however, others can move quickly from independent living to a cane to a walker,” says Joyce Polhamus, chairwoman of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Design for Aging Knowledge Community. “You don’t need to completely remodel your home; there are small things you can do now to make it more accessible as the aging process evolves, while also making it better for the environment.”
One way to help ensure senior safety is to have a well-lit home, but it sometimes can be difficult to reach outlets and to remember to turn lights on and off. Installing sensors so lights go on and off automatically when someone enters and leaves rooms will cut down on electricity costs and ensure better visibility.
Aging can mean tasks that formerly seemed simple, such as watering plants, can be difficult and energy-consuming. Polhamus recommends setting automatic timers on sprinkler systems, which also helps to conserve water.
Emptying the dishwasher or putting a load of laundry in the washing machine can put a strain on the body. Some newer appliances are designed to be more senior friendly.
With newer dishwasher and refrigerator models, doors and drawers open between hip and shoulder height, which doesn’t require reaching up or bending down. Additionally, newer appliances are more energy-efficient.
It can also help to place existing appliances, such as front-loading washing machines, on platforms.
The majority of heat gain and loss comes from windows. Electronic curtains can alleviate the burden of repeatedly opening and closing traditional curtains and are more airtight to better keep cold air outside.
If electronic curtains aren’t an option, Polhamus recommends ensuring windows are properly sealed and considering shrubs or bushes outside to act as a buffer against wind and cold air.