Remodeling Projects for Seniors Who Plan to Age in Place

Published In Aging in a Home Environment

Surveys consistently show that most older adults hope to age in place. Maintaining community and family ties are common motivations to remain in a family home after retirement. Better weather and convenient amenities provide an incentive for other seniors to move to a retirement community, while an assisted-living facility might be the right choice for older adults who need help with their activities of daily living.

Seniors who want to spend their retirement years in a family home might need to hire housekeepers and landscape services to help maintain their property. Seniors living alone might need to hire a caregiver to help them cope with disabling conditions. Family members who live in close proximity to their older relatives often provide similar assistance.

Before or shortly after they retire, homeowners who plan to age in place should make sure their home will continue to meet their needs as they grow older. Remodeling before retirement, when homeowners have maximized their earnings, will allow seniors to devote their retirement income to other needs.

Forbes in a November, 2023 article collected remodeling tips that will make homes friendlier for owners as they grow older. Some of the projects are easy and inexpensive, while others will involve a greater investment. Homeowners may want to make a project schedule that improves the home over a few years. Planning ahead will avoid the frenzy and budget strain of undertaking multiple remodeling projects at the same time.

Bathroom Improvements

Adding grab bars will help avoid falls in a wet shower or tub area. Grab bars should generally be added to the back and side wall of a shower or tub. A grab bar on the wall next to a toilet facilitates sitting and standing. Grab bars are less a remodeling project than a simple improvement in home safety, making their installation a good starting place.

While luxurious baths can be relaxing, entering a tub can be dangerous for people with limited mobility. Replacing a tub with a walk-in shower (or keeping a tub but adding a walk-in shower if space permits) will reduce the risk of falling associated with conventional bathtubs.

Adding a shower chair to a walk-in shower makes showering easier for seniors who become fatigued while standing. Shower chairs also reduce the risk of slipping and falling while taking a shower.

Standard toilets measure about 15 to 16 inches from the floor to the top of the seat. Seniors who experience weakness in their legs may have difficulty sitting and standing when they use a standard toilet. Installing a “tall toilet” — one that adds about 3 inches to the distance from the floor to the seat — can ease the leg strain of sitting and standing. An extra-tall toilet that adds 4 to 5 inches may be preferable for tall seniors.

A less expensive option than toilet replacement is the addition of a raised toilet seat to an existing toilet. A raised seat is positioned higher than a conventional seat. Many raised toilet seats include grab handles that are attached to the side. More expensive models include a hydraulic lift that raises the user into a standing position.

Second Floor Access

Knee and hip pain commonly trouble older adults, making stair climbing an unpleasant challenge. As people age, the risk of falling on stairs increases. Falls are particularly common as seniors descend stairs. 

If second-floor bedrooms become inaccessible in the future, relocating a bedroom to the first floor might be a practical solution. Unfortunately, it is also a solution that wastes an entire floor in a house when the homeowners live alone.

Stair lifts make second floors accessible while minimizing the risk of falling. Some stairlifts are designed to accommodate a wheelchair. Since stair lifts are expensive, seniors might want to wait until they know a lift will be necessary before investing in one. Stair lifts may also be impractical in older homes that have narrow staircases.

Elevators are even more expensive. Homeowners who might want to install an elevator need to budget the added expense of maintenance. However, elevators can be a good option for older adults who cannot install a chair lift.

Other Improvements

While grab bars are commonly installed in bathrooms, adding grab bars in a bedroom might make it easier for seniors to stand as they get out of bed. A grab bar next to a kitchen work area might promote stability for older adults who have difficulty maintaining their balance.

Homeowners should also pay attention to their flooring materials. Older carpeting that is beginning to fray should be replaced to avoid a tripping hazard. While hardwood floors are attractive, they can also be slippery. Covering them with carpeting or adding rugs that are secured to the floor can minimize hazards that lead to falls.

Older light fixtures may not produce sufficient illumination. Replacing them with modern fixtures or adding additional lighting sources can brighten a room and make it easier to navigate.

Traditional doorknobs can pose difficulties for seniors who have diminished grip strength. Replacing them with lever latches will make it easier to open and close doors.

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