As about 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day, many want to spend their golden years in their own homes.
With that comes the need to mitigate mobility issues, such as installing a stairlift or a walk-in tub to avoid falls, all of which requires some atypical renovations.
“Everyone wants to stay at home if possible and be comfortable at home as they age,” says Dr. Lucy Macina, attending physician at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola in the division of geriatrics. “But it takes a bit of planning and making environmental changes.”
Here’s some tips from the pros.
These days, homeowners have a wide range of cool design options that can help them age in place with grace.
“Good universal design aims to provide enhancements to one’s living environment by making it safer for daily functioning and navigation,” says Tonia Omeltchenko of Fox + Chenko Interiors, a local design firm.
She suggests levers instead of knobs on doors and faucets, motion-activated faucets and lighting, pullouts for easier access in kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, and smart technology such as voice-activated lighting and thermostats.
A certified aging in place specialist can retrofit a senior’s home with a great security system for around the same cost as one month in an assisted living facility. These systems are not exclusively designed for caregiving functions.
Aesthetic solutions that can make living spaces geriatric-friendly on any budget include widening doorways to accommodate a walker or wheelchair, reachable pullout storage solutions, and towel racks that can double as grab bars when balance grows unsteady. Consider lowered countertops with freezer and microwave drawers underneath, open spaces under the cooktop and sink, and trendy wall-mounted bathroom sinks that also leave space for walkers and wheelchairs.
Seniors and their families should think ahead. The National Institute on Aging suggests that a caregiver for an older adult learn how to get the senior the support needed to stay at home.
“Rethinking the layout of your home can result in new ways to use an old space, or a more efficient use of your square footage,” says Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten, a free service that matches renovators with vetted general contractors, monitoring the project to completion. “Being smart about storage not only means items are easily within arm’s reach, it ensures clutter is tucked away so that surfaces and floor space have a clear path.”
Among Sweeten’s projects that helped seniors age at home comfortably was a family whose aging mother needed a one-floor living situation so she wouldn’t need stairs to use the bathroom or kitchen. That meant converting an extra room on the first floor into a senior-friendly bathroom adjacent to her bedroom. So the contractor installed an easy-to-slide pocket door between the bedroom and bathroom, a handle on the outside of the shower, an ADA-compliant toilet, and ensured the curbless shower entry was large enough to accommodate a shower chair.
EMOTIONAL VS. PHYSICAL
“We find that there are two main issues that seniors and their families face and should consider when planning for the future: physical challenges such as diminishing vision and mobility, and emotional strains of loneliness and depression,” says Omeltchenko.
To address the physical needs of the individual, consider access to all levels at home, doors wide enough for wheelchairs, additional lighting, lever knobs to make using doors and faucets easier, safety railings, removing rugs and mats, and choosing furniture that is safe and comfortable.
As for emotional needs, consider bright, happy colors, drawing enough natural sunlight to improve moods, avoiding clutter to improve daily functioning, and incorporating heirlooms and photographs to highlight treasured memories.
“This topic hits close to home for both of us, as clients and family members frequently express the desire to age in place,” says Jennifer Fox Fox + Chenko Interiors. “Nothing makes us happier than being able to design beautiful spaces to celebrate lives being well lived.”