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Page Reviewed / Updated – December 17, 2020

Many seniors prefer to continue living in their own homes as they age. They cherish the memories and the familiarity of their homes, which are often paid in full, making them an economically sensible choice as well. However, homes are generally designed with young families in mind, and they may not meet the needs of older adults.

Fortunately, it’s possible to make home modifications that allow seniors to age in place and continue to live independently. Many of these alterations are low-cost and simple to execute. By removing some of the structural barriers that hinder accessibility and by adding safety features, older adults can remain in their homes with a new level of functionality and self-sufficiency. Take a look at the top home modifications that enable older family members to continue enjoying their independence.

Lighting Modifications

Lighting modifications are among the simplest changes to make in a senior’s home, but they can have some of the greatest effects. Many seniors experience some loss of vision as they age, and they often require more light to accomplish tasks than when they were younger. Maximizing the use of light throughout the home can make rooms more functional while adding to the home’s safety.

Lighting should be added to places where seniors are most likely to fall. Install light switches at both ends of stairways to ensure steps are well-lit, and consider adding lights along the stairs. Task lighting in kitchens and bathrooms also adds an element of safety.

Smart lighting can be a good investment as well. Motion detector lights that go on automatically are a great idea for lighting the way from the bedroom to the bathroom. Smart home systems such as Alexa or Google Home allow voice control of lighting.

Consider painting walls a light color to better reflect and amplify the light in each room. Using glare-free colors and finishes on both walls and floors help seniors to see what’s around them easily and safely.

Flooring Modifications

As people age, they become prone to slipping and falling. Because of that, making necessary modifications to floors in the home can be crucial to maintaining a safe environment.

While hard floors, such as tile, vinyl or hardwood, allow easier mobility throughout the home, they can be slippery. Make sure surfaces aren’t overly smooth, and avoid heavily waxed floors that can pose a slipping hazard.

Carpeting should have a short nap to prevent seniors’ feet from getting caught. Shorter-nap carpeting is also easier to navigate with a walker or wheelchair, should those become necessary for mobility.

As people age, they become prone to slipping and falling. Because of that, making necessary modifications to floors in the home can be crucial to maintaining a safe environment.

While hard floors, such as tile, vinyl or hardwood, allow easier mobility throughout the home, they can be slippery. Make sure surfaces aren’t overly smooth, and avoid heavily waxed floors that can pose a slipping hazard.

Carpeting should have a short nap to prevent seniors’ feet from getting caught. Shorter-nap carpeting is also easier to navigate with a walker or wheelchair, should those become necessary for mobility.

Many people enjoy the look and feel of throw rugs through the home, but these can be dangerous because they’re likely to slide out from under the feet and precipitate a fall. Make sure all rugs and mats have nonskid backings, or consider fastening rugs securely to the floor.

Mobility Modifications

Most homes aren’t built to accommodate mobility aids, including walkers and wheelchairs. Seniors may need these aids on a temporary basis while recovering from a fall or injury, for instance, or they may rely on them to provide greater independence. Preparing an older person’s home for mobility aids can be a wise decision when making home modifications.

One of the key priorities when making these modifications is widening doorways to allow wheelchairs to freely travel through the home. While this can be a somewhat expensive modification, the costs are reduced if electrical wiring doesn’t have to be moved. However, when widening doorways, pay attention to the placement of light switches and outlets to make sure they’re accessible from wheelchair height. A relatively easy change indoors is to install small ramps that help wheelchairs overcome door jambs and slight changes in elevation within a home.

Replacing outdoor steps with ramps is another necessary home modification that can provide more freedom to those using a wheelchair. Ramps are also easier for unsteady seniors to navigate than stairs, and they reduce the likelihood of falls even for those walking. Portable ramps are available for temporary use if the home modification budget doesn’t allow for permanent ramp construction.

One of the simplest changes for increasing mobility and safety around the home is to declutter, getting rid of furniture that isn’t being used. The more unhindered space there is in a senior’s home, the safer the home will be for those navigating the rooms.

Kitchen Modifications

With its combination of slick floors, flowing water and hot burners, the kitchen can be a dangerous room, especially for seniors with limited mobility. Kitchen modifications can range from simple rearrangement to complex remodeling.

Begin kitchen modifications by ensuring that the items senior residents need most often are within easy reach. Make sure seniors don’t have to strain to reach for dishes or stand on a step stool to get to food items they need.

A fairly simple modification is the addition of pull-out and spring-assisted shelves and pantries. These convenient add-ons to existing cabinetry allow seniors to see everything in a cabinet easily, without having to stoop, kneel or reach.

Kitchens may require significant construction to become accessible to seniors who use wheelchairs. Lowering the height of countertops and sinks and roll-under sinks make a big difference for wheelchair users as well. When redesigning countertops, consider using contrasting colors to make things easier for those with vision issues to see what they’re doing.

Bathroom Modifications

The bathroom is one of the most important rooms to modify for seniors wishing to live as independently as possible. The slippery surfaces and presence of water can cause potential danger in the bathroom. Modifications can range from simple additions to complete remodels, which may be needed to accommodate wheelchairs.

On the simpler side, nonslip rugs and flooring can make a big difference as can elevated toilet seats that may decrease the risk of seniors losing their balance. Grab bars in the shower help prevent falls — but make sure they’re installed into the wall studs so they can hold the weight of a person while they’re slipping. Suction cup grab bars are likely to pop off the wall just when they’re needed. Seniors who prefer baths to showers can use transfer benches that provide a bridge between the bathroom floor and the bathtub, allowing the person to sit as they transfer into the tub.

In addition, seniors with arthritis may prefer a freestanding toilet paper holder that allows them to reach without having to stretch or twist their hands. Seniors can also forgo toilet paper altogether by replacing their toilet with a bidet. Removing faucet handles that twist in favor of lever faucets or even foot-operated faucets can also make a big difference in bathroom functionality.

If remodeling is needed, plenty of options are available to allow full use of a modern bathroom while minimizing risks. Shower stalls without any barriers give easy access without the need to step up into the shower. In some cases, bathrooms with separate tubs and showers can be removed to create the room needed to build a barrier-free shower stall. During a shower remodel, consider adding features such as grab bars, a pull-down seat and height-adjustable or handheld showerheads. These features are also available in a walk-in tub. While these can be pricey, seniors who love to soak in a hot bath or who can benefit from hydrotherapy may find it the most enjoyable solution.

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What to Consider Before Starting Home Modifications

When seniors want to continue living independently, home modifications, whether minor or major, may allow them to do so. Understanding what difficulties the senior is having with daily life around the home is key to knowing which home modifications to prioritize. Implementing the right home modifications makes it possible for seniors to age in place with the right balance of safety and independence.

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  • Search over 400 Programs