Re­mov­ing ob­sta­cles for older adults can keep them safe and pro­long the time they spend in their houses


Re­becka Snell, 65, said she knew that if she and her hus­band Vic Lab­son were to con­tinue liv­ing in their 1960s ranch home in Lake­wood, Colo., im­prove­ments would have to be made to cre­ate a safer and more en­joy­able space.

Mov­ing the washer and dryer from the walk­out base­ment to the main level was high on her wish list.

“It was not just go­ing up and down stairs; it was car­ry­ing laun­dry bas­kets up and down the stairs,” Snell said.

She con­sulted with Bar­bara Bar­ton, a mas­ter kitchen and bath de­signer and cer­ti­fied Liv­ing In Place pro­fes­sional in Lit­tle­ton, Colo., who laid out a plan to pro­vide a suit­able and com­fort­able space.

To ac­com­mo­date Snell, said Bar­ton, “we in­cluded the stack­able washer and dryer hid­den be­hind cabi­net doors on the main level. Then, we knew we needed to add bet­ter rail­ings on the stairs go­ing down to the base­ment. And for the fam­ily room, there was just one rail and we added a sec­ond.”

For many older adults, there’s no place like their own home. The prob­lem is that most houses are of­ten not de­signed to ac­com­mo­date phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive chal­lenges that come with ag­ing.

Steep stair­ways, nar­row hall­ways and other struc­tural bar­ri­ers can make an older home feel like an in­door ob­sta­cle course. A few uni­ver­sal de­sign mod­i­fi­ca­tions can go a long way in help­ing res­i­dents of all ages live safely and com­fort­ably in their homes.

Here are some home im­prove­ment ideas that might al­low you to com­fort­ably re­main in your home rather than hav­ing to move else­where as you get older:


Tech­nol­ogy is a game-changer for re­main­ing in­de­pen­dent in your home and stay­ing con­nected with oth­ers, said Erik Lis­tou, co­founder of the Den­ver-based Liv­ing In Place In­sti­tute, which trains pro­fes­sion­als in the hous­ing and med­i­cal fields on ac­ces­si­bil­ity and safety in the home. Sen­sors can keep a vir­tual eye on you and your home to im­prove com­fort, se­cu­rity and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. As you move around your home, the de­vices can re­port back to a care­taker or a loved one about your daily rou­tine.

Voice-con­trolled per­sonal as­sis­tant de­vices give you the abil­ity to turn house­hold items such as lights, a TV or ther­mo­stat on or off. More­over, with a push of a but­ton, you can con­trol con­nected home sys­tems around the house, in­clud­ing sprin­klers, win­dows and locks.


The Na­tional In­sti­tute on Ag­ing re­ports that six out of every 10 falls hap­pen at home. By mak­ing a few mod­i­fi­ca­tions, you can in­crease your safety and com­fort.

For starters, in­stall handrails on both sides of a stair­way to pre­vent tum­bles, be­ing sure they ex­tend be­yond the top and bot­tom of stairs.

Mod­i­fy­ing the front en­try­way so the sur­face from the ex­te­rior to the in­te­rior is level will re­duce the risk of fall­ing and make the tran­si­tion eas­ier.

“If the house has front steps, add a handrail on each side,” Lis­tou said, not­ing that, ide­ally, you would re­con­fig­ure the en­try­way to have a slop­ing walk­way rather than steps.

A door over­hang at the main en­trance can shield you from the el­e­ments and re­duce the risk of slip­ping dur­ing in­clement weather.

Elim­i­nate slip­ping and trip­ping haz­ards in­doors by re­mov­ing floor mats and throw rugs. Choose floor cov­er­ings that are slip re­sis­tant, durable for wheel­chair or walker use and able to smoothly make the tran­si­tion to ad­ja­cent rooms. If the bud­get al­lows, in­stall a stair lift or el­e­va­tor.


Nar­row door­ways are prob­lem­atic for peo­ple of all ages, but es­pe­cially for peo­ple with lim­ited mo­bil­ity. Make your door­ways at least 91 cen­time­tres wide in­stead of the stan­dard 76 cen­time­tres. Lis­tou said if a res­i­dent or vis­i­tor is car­ry­ing gro­ceries or us­ing a walker or wheel­chair, that’s the per­fect size for nav­i­gat­ing through a home eas­ily.

To make doors easy and safe to use, re­place door­knobs with lever type han­dles with end re­turns. These help pre­vent clothes from snag­ging on the knob or han­dle and keep hands from slid­ing off the end of a reg­u­lar door lever han­dle.


Con­sider re­plac­ing your tub with a walk-in shower in­stead of one with a step-over thresh­old. In­stall sturdy grab bars at the en­trance to the shower, in­side the shower and by the toi­let to pro­vide sta­bil­ity and sup­port. A taller toi­let will aid in sit­ting and ris­ing. Bidets or bidet toi­let seat con­ver­sions can sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove hy­giene.

Snell’s mas­ter bath­room had a jet­ted tub that oc­cu­pied about a third of the room.

“I didn’t want a tub in the bath­room be­cause I never used it,” she said. “I wanted to use the space for things that mat­ter to me. If I could get in the tub, I couldn’t get out.”

The bath­room makeover was ex­ten­sive, in­volv­ing widen­ing the door­way, adding lux­ury vinyl tile, which is softer on feet, a walk-in tub and a cur­b­less shower with two grab bars. The shower wall was prepped with brac­ing for a fu­ture fold-down seat and the toi­let pa­per holder in­te­grates a grab bar.

Even a cramped pow­der room can be made more ac­ces­si­ble. The door can be mod­i­fied to a slid­ing door and a pedestal sink will take up less floor space than a bulky van­ity. An­other op­tion is to carve space out of an ad­ja­cent closet to ex­pand the size of the bath­room.


Con­ve­niences such as roll­out shelves and a mi­crowave oven at counter height can help you main­tain in­de­pen­dence in the kitchen. Ide­ally, you would have open space be­neath the sink to pro­vide wheel­chair ac­ces­si­bil­ity. An elec­tric cook­top with con­trols on the front will elim­i­nate the need to reach across hot burn­ers. To avoid hav­ing to bend over, add seated work spaces for food prepa­ra­tion.

Snell’s re­vamped kitchen in­cludes an in­duc­tion cook­top, which of­fers the safety of no open flame. The con­trol panel is op­er­ated by the touch of a fin­ger.

Pull­out draw­ers pro­vide easy ac­cess and the dish­washer is raised 15 cen­time­tres from the floor for easy ac­cess and less bend­ing.

Two ovens that are sep­a­rate from the cook­top are raised to pre­vent lean­ing over. At the cen­tre of the kitchen, the is­land is con­ve­nient and ac­ces­si­ble for meal prepa­ra­tion.

“What’s sur­pris­ing is that the re­mod­elling was seam­less,” Snell said. “Ev­ery­thing seems so nat­u­ral now. When I leave the house and I don’t have these fea­tures else­where, I’m re­ally grate­ful for what I have. I feel com­fort­able that I’m less likely to in­jure my­self.”


Some house de­signs might not be prac­ti­cal or cost ef­fec­tive for ag­ing in place. For ex­am­ple, Den­ver res­i­dent Larry Arm­strong ’s former home, a two-storey, turn-of-the cen­tury Vic­to­rian, was not a good can­di­date for mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

“It had high ceil­ings and wind­ing stair­cases,” said Arm­strong, 71, a cer­ti­fied Liv­ing In Place pro­fes­sional who works with re­mod­ellers and de­sign­ers.

“It would have been very dif­fi­cult to adapt to live in place. I had even looked at the pos­si­bil­ity of putting an el­e­va­tor in, but it would have dam­aged the in­tegrity of the core of the home. You walk in and all of a sud­den there’s an el­e­va­tor stick­ing out in the mid­dle of the house.”

In­stead of ren­o­vat­ing, Arm­strong and his wife came up with Plan B, mov­ing to a three-be­d­room, ranch-style bun­ga­low. The home has a zero-step en­try, but needed a few more mod­i­fi­ca­tions, es­pe­cially in the mas­ter and guest bath­rooms. They just have a few more tweaks to make.

When I leave the house and I don’t have these fea­tures ... I’m re­ally grate­ful for what I have. I feel com­fort­able that I’m less likely to in­jure my­self.”


Proper ren­o­va­tions can help older adults avoid mov­ing into fa­cil­i­ties, while pro­vid­ing them with a sense of safety and com­fort at home.

Re­becka Snell of Lake­wood, Colo., con­sulted with a cer­ti­fied Liv­ing In Place pro­fes­sional be­fore mak­ing changes to her 1960s-era, ranch-style home.

Mov­ing the washer and dryer from the base­ment to the main level was a pri­or­ity for Re­becka Snell.

A walk-in bath­tub with grab bars was in­stalled in the Snells’ bath­room.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.