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Aging in Place: How to Get Your House Ready

Your parent or loved one may feel comfortable and settled in a home they’ve lived in for years. After all, they know the neighborhood and the community, and they have their favorite shops and restaurants.

But a home that worked well when they were younger might need some modifications as they age. Even if they’re healthy and mobile now, it’s not too soon to make plans and changes to get their home ready for the challenges of aging.

Tiffany Kinkade, a physical therapist with Banner Home Care and Medical Equipment in Gilbert, AZ, said, “Try to experience their perspective in their environment.” You can identify potential difficulties by simulating impairments:

  • Walk through the house with a full glass of water in each hand. Do you struggle not to spill a drop when you turn a corner, step over a rug or move to a darker area? These are the places that could become difficult to navigate.
  • If you can, move through the house with a walker or wheelchair. Where do you have trouble navigating?
  • Cover your hands with socks to simulate a lack of grip or sensation. Will handles, switches or small kitchen tools need to be replaced?
  • Put Scotch tape on glasses’ lenses to simulate visual deficits. Colored stickers or more contrast between items could make things easier to see.

Start with easier changes to make a house ready for aging

Kinkade said you could begin with changes you can do yourself or changes that don’t cost a lot of money:

  • Rearrange the furniture to make the space more open.
  • Add pillows or armrests to chairs to make them taller, so it’s easier to stand from them.
  • Add a chair with arm supports to the bedroom for dressing.
  • Remove bathmats and any rugs that aren’t needed. Secure the ones you need with double-sided carpet tape on the edges and corners.
  • Keep a few flashlights handy and install night lights to help prevent falls. Clear the paths to the windows so blinds can be opened in the daytime to let in natural light.
  • Reorganize cupboards, the pantry and the inside of the refrigerator, so items you need most often are between shoulder and knee height and so there’s never a need for a stepstool.

Some changes might cost a bit more

You might need to hire a professional or buy equipment to make some of the alterations you need to age in place safely. But making these changes can be less expensive—and more desirable—than moving.

“Many people move too soon. It can be more affordable to adapt your home and bring in help rather than uprooting and paying for assisted living or a group home. Sometimes moving to a higher level of care is absolutely the right decision but staying in your home may be more possible than you think,” Kinkade said. You may want to:

  • Remove carpeting and widen doorways or hallways to accommodate a wheelchair (though sometimes using a different type of door hinge can make them wide enough).
  • Add grab bars around the toilet and in the shower. Kinkade recommends installing them into the wall—the type that attaches via suction isn’t as stable.
  • Install a higher toilet.
  • Relocate a second-floor bedroom and bathroom to the first floor.
  • Add ramps or railings at the front or garage door.
  • Replace gravel surfaces or sloped driveways since they can make walking difficult and increase the risk of a fall.
  • Plan to hire help with household cleaning, chores and yardwork.

Connect with the help you need

You don’t have to figure out how to help an aging parent or loved one on your own. A social worker can consult with you and help you weigh the pros and cons. A primary care physician or geriatrician can connect you with physical or occupational therapists to help with decreased mobility or balance. Companies with experience in remodeling for aging in place often have licensed therapists on staff who can help. And an insurance company case manager can help determine what items or therapy might be covered by insurance.

The bottom line

It’s wise to modify a home for your aging parent or loved one before they need help. The right changes can help them stay in the home they love for as long as possible. To connect with an expert who can help evaluate your loved one’s health and mobility, visit Banner Health.

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