Wouldn't it be nice to be able to click your heels and get your wish? For most older Americans, being able to remain in their homes and communities as they age would be a dream come true. Nearly 90 percent of people over 50 want to age-in-place—live independently for as long as possible in their current home and community. However, as the nation's population grows older, most existing homes will need updating so that their residents can remain independent. It is good practice to step back occasionally and evaluate a home to see how well it supports daily needs and activities.
There are many steps to ensure that you or your family members stay safe and comfortable in a home, and often these changes can be made with little or no cost, while also making the home more user-friendly and welcoming to visitors of all ages and abilities.
Here are tips that can help:
• Remove all scatter and throw rugs, which can lead to falls;
• Open blinds and curtains, and raise shades during daylight hours to increase natural light inside the home;
• Place electrical, phone, and computer cords along walls where they will not trip anyone. To avoid the risk of fire, do not run the wires under carpeting;
• Remove clutter from staircases and hallways to prevent trips and falls; and,
• Set the hot-water heater to 120 degrees to prevent scalding and to reduce energy consumption.
As you make these no-cost changes, look around the house to see whether you could take additional steps to ensure the safety. Here are low-cost changes that run between $35 and $75:
• Increase lighting by using the highest-watt bulbs possible for fixtures or lamps;
• Place double-sided tape or carpet mesh under area rugs to prevent slipping, or remove scatter rugs all together;
• Install offset hinges on all doors to add 2 inches of width for easier access;
• Replace traditional light switches with easy-to-use, rocker-style switches;
• Install night-lights in hallways between bedrooms and bathrooms;
• Replace knobs on cabinets and drawers with easy-to-grip, D-shaped handles;
• Add anti-slip strips in the bathtubs and showers;
• Mount grab-bars in the bathtubs, showers, and place a sturdy waterproof seat to be able to sit down while bathing or showering;
• Install a handheld adjustable shower head for easier bathing; and,
• Install handrails on both sides of each stairway to support sure footing.
You can find low-cost tools and products at your local hardware or home improvement store. It's important that you or a contractor properly install all the updates, so find a reputable handyman to help you if you need assistance.
In addition to the changes listed above, always remember to have a properly rated fire extinguisher in the kitchen area, and fire and carbon monoxide detectors on all floors.
Since most people want to age-in-place, consider more extensive changes to your or a loved one's home so that it can continue to meet daily living needs. Design features such as multi-level countertops and pull-out shelves in the kitchen provide easy access to pots and pans. No-step entries to the home may cost more, but they make getting in and out of the home a breeze.
Other options include:
• First-floor living opportunities, with a master bedroom and full bath on the first floor;
• At least one no-step entrance to the central living area of the home; and,
• A maximum clearance (up to 36 inches across) in all doorways for easy movement throughout the home.
When homes are updated, residents can remain independent longer and caregiving becomes easier. Hopefully, these ideas prompt you to evaluate your or your loved one's home and make changes to enable aging-in-place. For more information on updating a home and finding a remodeler or contractor to do the work, go to www.aarp.org/family/housing to learn more.
George Rowan is a member of the AARP board of directors.