Home is where the heart is.

And unsurprisingly, that’s where the vast majority of older adults in the United States want to remain as they grow older. As of 2018, AARP reported a majority (75%) of older Americans say they want to remain in their homes as they age. And why not? Researchers at Harvard point out that older Americans enjoy the highest rate of home ownership (around 80 percent) of all the generations.

But at the same time, the homes in which senior citizens plan to age in place are not currently equipped to handle the challenges, making aging in place home modifications essential

...AARP reported a majority (75%) of older Americans say they want to remain in their homes...

Top five aging in place home modifications

The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard studies home accessibility and safety for aging in place, among other critical housing issues in the United States, and considers five accessibility and safety modifications important and appropriate for a home intended as a haven for aging in place:

  • Entryways with no steps
  • Single-floor living
  • Doorways and hallways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs
  • Lever-style door handles rather than knobs
  • Light switches and electrical outlets within reach from a wheelchair

As of 2017, the center concluded only one percent of American homes currently meet all five criteria.

So how can elderly Americans and their caregivers get the family home that holds so many memories ready to safeguard Mom and Dad in the years to come?

Clear the path

First, declutter. Evaluate walking paths into and throughout the home, removing unnecessary furniture and trip hazards, unsecured throw rugs, power cords, boxes, stacks of books—anything that could cause trips or falls.

Smooth the way. Remove, repair, or replace any bumps, lumps, saddles, transitions, breaks, cracks, holes, and other trip hazards in the home’s sidewalks, garage floors, patio areas, indoor/outdoor transitions, doorways, and flooring. Consider replacing multiple types of flooring indoors with a single uniform type of nonskid flooring to minimize both visual and physical transitions (and associated trip hazards) between rooms.

Install ramps and/or assistive lift technology. Ramps, elevators, and chair lifts should be installed before they are needed, not after a crisis.

Visual assistance

Upgrade lighting, and add more light. As we age, we need more light to see, and we need it everywhere, from the most frequently used rooms to hallways and transition areas. Darkness is dangerous. A combination lights, or “layering light,” helps in every room. Sconces, overhead lighting, track lighting, light valences, portable lamps, and recessed lights are all important parts of a well-designed lighting plan for aging in place home modification.

Who’s at the door? The original front door peephole may be too high for a senior in a wheelchair; that’s no problem if it’s been lowered. Or take advantage of smart home technology and use a high-tech alarm that connects to a smartphone to show exactly who’s out there in real time before you get up.

Kitchen and bath modifications

Unsurprisingly, the most hazardous parts of the home for aging in place are those where water, heat, standing, stooping, stretching, and electricity mix. Home modification for elderly people who plan to age in place frequently begins with kitchens and baths.

  • Lower counters, sinks, countertop appliances, and light switches for easier accessibility
  • Remove bathtub; replace them with walk-in showers or walk-in bathtubs
  • If tub removal is not within budget, add a bath transfer bench, which makes getting into and out of the tub easier and safer
  • Install grab bars in showers and near bathtubs
  • Add no-slip strips to tub and shower floors, and work with a contractor to select flooring material for the kitchen and bath that is the most slip-resistant when wet

Get expert help

Seniors and their families need not face the task of aging in place remodeling and the complicated requirements of modifying a home. AARP has assembled a comprehensive Home Fit Guide to help families in the planning stages begin the process of planning and evaluating hidden hazards, pitfalls, safety issues and accessibility barriers in older homes.

Professionals such as occupational therapists and Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists are certified and trained in evaluating and recommending aging in place remodeling. They can work with families to transform an existing family home (or even a newly purchased single-floor home) into a safe, accessible, comfortable, convenient place for Mom as she continues to live independently in her community.