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How To Adapt Your Home For Mobility Later On

As Baby Boomers like me start asking for the senior discount at every store and theater, we also start considering how and where we might live out our so-called Golden Years, writes American author William Hirsch.

Remember when we wouldn’t trust anyone over thirty? Many of us will head to Florida or some other warm climate.

But others will choose to stay in their current homes near friends, family, churches, and other places that have become integral parts of their lives.

There is a growing trend toward “ageing in place.” The term applies to those who want to live as they have in their current home for as long as possible.

As we age, our mobility and capabilities change. Steps can become a challenge. Our balance, vision, hearing, and mental processes can deteriorate. We lose strength. Can your current home accommodate your physical changes?

Normal everyday things that once seemed benign might become obstacles and hazards. The good news is that a number of relatively simple modifications to your home can make it pleasant and safe to live in for many more years to come.

You may not know what your future challenges might be. But we do know that most people will experience a decrease in mobility. Here are a few things you can do to make your house easier to live in if you become less mobile:

  • Plan for one-floor living

Stairs will be your biggest obstacle. If your bedroom is upstairs now, take a look at your plan and see if there is a way to alter the use of the rooms to let you live on the first floor and leave the upstairs for guests. This might require adding a bedroom and bathroom suite onto the first floor. Or you might be able to convert a seldom-used formal living room into a bedroom.

  • Make other floors accessible

If one floor living is not feasible, look for ways to add an elevator or stair lift. Is there a closet that can convert to an elevator? Less costly than building an additional bedroom suite, these can be deferred and done quickly if the need arises. Just plan for them now.

  • Make the entry accessible

You need at least one entry door with no step. This entrance should be covered to shelter it from snow and rain. Often this is the door into the house from the garage. If you have a few steps up to the house now, a ramp can be built.

  • Eliminate tripping hazards

Be sure to remove any raised thresholds at interior doors or uneven transitions between rooms. These small level changes can be particularly hazardous because they are easily overlooked and create tripping hazards.

  • Make sure your doorways are wide enough

A wheelchair may be in your future, even if it is only temporary while recovering from an injury. You’ll want to be able to pass through your doorways. There are some misconceptions about the required width for access.

  • Maneuvering space is essential

The American Disabilities Act (different from our own) requires a five-foot diameter clear floor space in all rooms, particularly bathrooms. The swing of a door cannot intrude into that space. The purpose of this clear area is so that should a person fall to the floor and not be able to get up, another person could enter the room to help. If the room is too small, the fallen person would block the door from being pushed in and open. This is the reason handicapped stalls in public bathrooms are so large with doors that swing out. Chances are you do not have this much clear floor space in your bathrooms. The solution is to rehang the door so it swings out. Then no matter where the fallen person is, a rescuer could open the door and get in. One other option is to simply remove the door all together.

  • Install grab bars and additional railings

Things we do every day, like getting in and out of showers, on and off toilets, and even walking down a hallway can become difficult. Installing good, solidly anchored grab bars in showers, tubs, at toilets, and even along hallways can give security to those who are less stable. Grab bars encourage people to stay ambulatory and not have to use a wheelchair. The more we all walk, even slowly, the healthier we remain.

  • Install a shower seat and a hand-held showerhead

Showering while seated is the most convenient and safe way to bathe with diminished mobility and balance. This seat does not have to be built in. A heavy teak stool can work. Just get one that is designed to not tip easily. A shower seat with good grab bars will make it easier to get in and out of the shower, even if you are transferring from a wheelchair.

  • Change door knobs to lever handles

Lever door handles have been customary in Europe for centuries. But in America, door knobs have traditionally been used. These can look great, but once your hands weaken and become arthritic, door knobs become barriers. Consider swapping knobs for levers that you can use by leaning an elbow on them. You’ll find them to be easier to use with wet hands, too. This change to levers applies to faucets, too.

  • Miscellaneous changes to make ageing in place easier

Remove floor surfaces that could be slippery. Improve lighting in the house. Install a toilet riser seat. Install slide-out shelves in cabinets. Change cabinet knobs to D-shaped handles. Change to LED lights for much longer bulb life and lower energy costs. Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms with a siren and a flashing light. Install battery-operated emergency lighting in hallways. Do things to reduce the required home maintenance. And of course, install an emergency call system, especially if you live alone.

I think it is a wise and happy decision to live in the home in the location you have come to love. Having family and friends nearby is a blessing. If you do a little planning and do a few modifications, your house can be your home for a long time.



William Hirsch is the author of Designing Your Perfect House. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects.  He was the former president of the Delaware Society of Architects and is a member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

About the author

Alana Lowes

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