Age In Place: How To Do It Successfully
Robert and Judy Port have lived in their home in Dunwoody, Ga., for 36 years and want to stay there as long as possible. So, the Ports decided to modify their home to accommodate their immediate and future needs to “Age In Place.”
With assistance from Cathy Morrow, an interior designer and owner of Room Reflections in metro Atlanta, the Ports installed low-maintenance, easy-to-clean flooring, included more functional furniture and went for new performance fabrics on their sofas that can handle the activity of grandkids.
Not only were the Ports able to add new features to their home, they were able to keep treasured pieces, such as art deco-style glass tables, and lots of memorabilia on the bookcases they have cherished for years.
This is not the first time the couple made adjustments in their home. The Ports had a chair lift installed, and they bought swiveling chairs that allowed Judy to have conversations with her visitors. She had trouble doing this in the past because of her health.
“It’s great. It was the best change ever,” Judy Port told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). “I wish we’d done it 30 years ago.”
Older adults, like the Ports, are undertaking remodeling projects to make aging in place easier in the homes that they have owned for decades.
When it comes to remodeling projects, interior designers recommend adding certain features to make the home safe and convenient.
1. Kitchen Recommendations
- Install pullout shelves in lower cabinets. “They give you so much more mobility and ease of use than you think,” Morrow said.
• Install wider cabinets at a higher height with drawers large enough for pans. In this way, you won’t have to squat down to pull out your pots and pans, Morrow said.• Include floor-to-ceiling pantries. Medina Jett, co-founder of Atlanta-based TDS Builders, describes this feature to AJC as “sort of a floor cabinet that makes it easy to access things that they need on a daily basis.”
2. Bathroom Considerations
The bathroom is considered the most dangerous room in the house. According to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, the highest rates of injuries happen in or around the tub or shower because of wet surfaces and on or near the toilet.
To improve bathroom safety, Morrow recommends:
• Installing smaller tiles with more grout for grip.• Installing prefabbed, nonslip shower walls and floors. Prefabbed floors eliminate leaks around grout and the need to clean grout. Prefabbed shower walls are easier to clean.
• Using unpolished matte floor tiles that are no larger than 12 inches by 24 inches. They have a decent amount of grout for grip.
• Installing grab bars strategically in the bathroom. Also, make sure grab bars are correctly secured against the underlying structure to support a person’s weight. Installing vertical grab bars where the tile or shower door ends are also helpful.
• Installing toilets that are between 17-19 inches high. These “comfort-height” toilets are good for older adults with knee and hip issues.
• Retrofitting a shower with a removable wand if the existing plumbing allows. Removable wands make it easier to shower or wash a pet.
• Building a corner triangle seat in the shower or installing a folding seat that is mounted properly and securely to hold an adult’s weight.
3. Lighting Considerations
Morrow recommends installing strip LED lighting in the kitchen and hardwiring it into outlets or a switch so a wire isn’t visible. In this way, the task lighting shines down on counters so that users can “cut or chop confidently.” For the bathroom, Morrow suggests having lights on a dimmer that can get very bright when needed. Homeowners can also add a light fixture that gives them another bulb.
4. Transition Areas and Outside Entryways
What’s important, Jett says, is making sure there are wide doorways in bathrooms and bedrooms to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. If possible, Jett recommends having bedrooms on the main floor to eliminate the challenge of climbing stairs multiple times a day. Jett believes the home should be easily accessible, even from the outside.
“I’ve heard people’s stories of their family trying to bring ramps so that they could get into the house with the wheelchair, whereas with our rental properties, it’s an easy wheel right in from the ground level, and they don’t have to deal with all of that,” she said.
5. A Bedroom for Live-In Caregivers
Older adults who want to age in place might hire live-in caregivers to help them with their daily living activities. If this is the case, caregivers will need a bedroom. According to Jett, it’s better to add accommodations for live-in caregivers sooner rather than later.
Reasons Why Older Adults Want to Age in Place
Why are some older adults determined to stay in their homes instead of downsizing and moving into a smaller home or assisted living facility?
Environmental psychologists suggest that seniors want to stay where they are because they have “territorial control,” according to Stephen M. Golant, Ph.D., a national speaker, author, and researcher on the housing, mobility, transportation, and long-term care needs of older adult populations. Within their homes, seniors are “masters of their own personal space.”
“For example, in their dwellings, they can influence their social interactions—who hears and sees them, who they talk to, and who they listen to,” Golant wrote in an article for Booming Encore, a digital media hub designed to provide information and inspiration to help baby boomers create and live their best encore. “Often their reluctance to give up this control is why they reject home-sharing and accessory (in-law) apartment arrangements.”
As an example of Golant’s point, the Ports renovated their home, not just for themselves but to improve their ability to engage in social interactions. Judy said they “wanted a space where everybody could sit together and be comfortable.”
With this control, older adults can also decide whether or not they want to remodel their homes to accommodate their health conditions, which, as Golant wrote, would “admit to their vulnerabilities and, from their perspectives, make their dwellings look and feel like nursing homes.”
“Feeling safe and secure in their own homes, older people are the ones who decide on the care they receive,” Golant wrote. “They can exert veto power preventing family caregivers or paid workers from passing through their doors. They are able to influence who assesses and treats their health and self-care challenges.”
Golant noted that seniors do not have much control outside of their homes and risk facing activities and conditions that can stress them out, such as traffic, crime, bad weather, and unsafe walking pathways. Also, while outside of their homes, older adults “must embarrassingly broadcast their vulnerabilities—such as a slower or unsteady gait or a reliance on canes and walkers.”
Aging in place also means that older adults can have their “final expression of control.” According to Golant, “They will opt to die in the comfort of their own homes rather than in sterile medical facilities.”