|COVID-19 Update: Many caregivers and seniors are searching for ways to support and connect with their loved ones while maintaining isolation and social distancing guidelines. We’ve compiled a list of 10 essential products to help older adults stay happy, healthy and connected, whether they are aging in place at home or in an assisted living community.
As of August 2022, 77% of Americans over the age of 50 would prefer to age in place rather than moving elsewhere. Although the average cost of in-home care in 2021 was 10.2% more expensive than assisted living, many seniors feel more comfortable in a familiar environment. But how can they age in place when their homes have stairs, high cabinets and other obstacles? They can make home modifications.
This guide covers some of the most helpful home modifications for older adults, including handrails, ramps and stair lifts. It also provides tips for affording these modifications on a fixed income.
What Are the Must-Have Home Modifications for Seniors Aging in Place?
Simple modifications make a senior’s home safer and more inviting. They also make it easier for older adults to deal with some of the unique challenges of aging, such as reduced strength and loss of muscle mass.
Handrails provide extra support when climbing stairs or walking from one room to another. This makes them ideal for seniors who have poor balance or lack confidence in their ability to move around without falling. It’s common to install handrails in stairwells, but they can also go in hallways, along the kitchen counters and next to each exit.
Installing a ramp eliminates the need for an older adult to navigate steep steps. For seniors with limited mobility, ramps also make it possible to use a wheelchair without having to move in with a family member or sign up for assisted living.
Older homes may have cracked tiles, curled carpet edges or other flooring-related hazards, making them unsafe for older adults. To reduce the risk of falls, seniors should consider installing low-impact flooring, which absorbs more energy than standard flooring materials. Rubber and cork are good choices, as they’re soft and slip-resistant. Older adults should also install nonskid backing on their carpets. New flooring can make a big difference in any area of the home, from the kitchen to the basement.
A stair lift is a chair that runs along a motorized track, making it possible for an older adult to use the upper floors of their home without climbing the stairs. Seniors may benefit from installing one of these lifts between the basement and first floor or between the first floor and the second floor. In both cases, having a stair lift reduces the risk of injury and gives older adults an increased sense of independence.
Bathrooms are filled with potential hazards, from wet floors to hard counters, making them dangerous to seniors with poor balance or limited mobility. The good news is that a few simple modifications can make a bathroom much safer for an older adult. Installing non-slip decals, adding a shower bench and putting handrails near the toilet and sink may reduce the risk of falls. It’s also helpful to install a single faucet lever to reduce the risk of burns.
Accessible Door Handles and Cabinet Pulls
Arthritis causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. For seniors with arthritis in their hands, these symptoms make it difficult to open doors, drawers and cabinets. One way to combat these problems is to install accessible door handles and cabinet pulls. Accessible door handles allow seniors to open doors without having to grip knobs and twist them. Cabinet pulls have the same purpose, except they make it easier to open cabinets instead of doors.
How Can Technology Make Aging in Place Safer?
Combining these home modifications with updated technology makes it even easier for seniors to age in place. These are just a few of the technologies used to make homes more accessible:
- Smart home technology: Smart home technology allows seniors to control lights, locks, security cameras and appliances remotely. This eliminates the need to get up and down frequently, which may reduce the risk of falls.
- Updated thermostat: Smart thermostats make it possible to adjust the temperature without having to walk to the thermostat and turn a dial. A smart thermostat is also programmable, which may help seniors avoid health issues caused by extreme temperatures.
- Specialized smoke alarms: Specialized fire alarms come with extra features to help older adults avoid fire-related injuries. For example, some models announce the location of each fire, helping seniors avoid smoke and flames as they evacuate.
- Medical alert systems: Medical alert systems reduce the amount of time it takes an older adult to get help in a medical emergency. When the user pushes a button, the system alerts the local emergency response center, making it easier to get help from police, paramedics and firefighters.
How to Afford Home Modifications for Seniors Aging in Place
These simple modifications are inexpensive, making them a more affordable alternative to assisted living and other types of residential care. That said, seniors on fixed income may find it difficult to cover the cost of home modifications on their own. The following programs may cover ramps, medical alert systems and other items:
- Medicare: Original Medicare doesn’t cover home modifications, but some Medicare Advantage Plans come with extra benefits. Those benefits may include coverage for walk-in showers, medical alert systems and devices used to help seniors complete instrumental activities of daily living.
- Government programs: The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides grants and low-interest loans to help eligible homeowners make home modifications. Many states also have programs, like Medicaid waives, designed to help seniors make their homes safer.
- Tax incentives: Seniors may be able to deduct home modification expenses on their state and/or federal tax returns.
How to Get Started With Home Modifications for Seniors Aging In Place
Some modifications are simple, but others require advanced knowledge of building codes and electrical safety. For safety purposes, homeowners should always hire licensed professionals to complete complex projects. It’s also important to use certified installers for medical equipment, as DIY installation errors may cause the equipment to malfunction.