Easy tips to make your home senior friendly

Published on Wed, Feb 17, 2010
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With more older Americans remaining in their homes as they age, it’s important for their houses to be equipped to deal with their changing needs.

The number of Americans aged 65 and over will reach more than 70 million within the next 20 years, with almost all Baby Boomers (90 percent) hoping  to live in their current home for as long as possible, according to statistics from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and AARP.

“With Boomers leading this trend of ‘aging in place,’ they are realizing home modifications are essential to maintain independence as they age,” says Eric McRoberts, incoming chair of the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Committee on Design for Aging.  

The AIA recommends Boomers make their homes and communities safe and navigable – despite age or physical ability – by following four steps:

Clear pathways

Remove clutter that can obstruct your home’s pathways, such as plants, magazine racks and small home accessories. If one of the home’s residents uses a walker or wheelchair, allow at least 36 inches between objects. Make sure to have lots of light to ease strain on older eyes and install wall switches at all room entry points.

Adopt a universal design

Small adjustments and basic retrofits can transform first or ground floors into everything a person needs – namely, a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Universally designed rooms feature elements such as dropped countertops, grab bars, level door handles, step-less entryways, wide hallways and curbless showers for safety and accessibility.
In multi-level homes, upstairs rooms are often converted into guest bedrooms or hobby areas that are seldom used. Using this rightsizing concept, McRoberts says, “An architect can help homeowners craft their physical environment so it’s increasingly friendly to them as they age.”

Get eco-friendly

Seniors also are encouraged to make eco-friendly adjustments to help lower energy costs. 

“Boomers are an especially astute group when it comes to green building design and sustainability,” says McRoberts. “Many make environmentally friendly purchases not just to save money, but because they see it as the right thing to do.”

Some small changes with big impact include substituting traditional light bulbs with energy-efficient ones, replacing old appliances with Energy-Star certified appliances and making sure renovations involve environmentally friendly materials, such as bamboo flooring or VOC-free paint. 

Good landscaping can create natural shading for the home, while tightly insulating doors and windows can significantly cut energy waste. A simple consultation with a professional can uncover additional ways to turn short-term investments into long-term savings. 

Prepare your community

The record number of Americans expected to retire in the coming years, combined with their desire to stay in their homes, will result in sweeping changes to their houses as well as their communities. The concept of livable communities – areas containing cultural, civic and sporting activities connected by public transportation – is expected to gain momentum.

Boomers who lobby local leaders today for community friendly public bus systems, accessible parks and pedestrian friendly walkways will help themselves and others in the future.

“If Baby Boomers make senior-focused programs and initiatives a priority now, it will be a win-win, not just for their golden years, but for the entire community,” says McRoberts.

To find an architect to help you and others in your community implement senior friendly ideas, visit http://architectfinder.aia.org.