Aging in Place – Staying Home Sweet Home

July 10, 2014
Aging in Place – Staying Home Sweet Home

This article was originally published in the 2014 BusinessWoman Caregiver Solutions Guide, a publication of On-Line Publishers, Inc. We are using it here with their permission.

As a person starts to age and finds even the simplest tasks complicated by failing strength or wits, it is normal that they want to retain their dignity and independence as long as possible. Thanks to the new trend of aging in place, individuals who suffer from these complications and related issues are now able to stay in their homes longer and not be wrenched from familiar surroundings.

Aging in place is a newer terminology used to describe creating or adapting a person's home or choice of residence with necessary changes and modifications so they can live independently and comfortably. Many women are caregivers for older loved ones, and making sure that the care receiver's home is safe as well as accessible is paramount to making the aging-in-place scenario feasible.

According to the most recent housing survey by the AARP, "Eighty-three percent of older Americans want to stay in their current homes for the rest of their lives." Unfortunately, most homes are not designed to accommodate people over age 65.

If you or someone you know is facing the decision to move or stay put, consider contacting a contractor who can do the necessary upgrades. Although many general contractors are capable of making the necessary modifications, some become a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), a specialized certification through the National Association of Home Builders.

These individuals have taken instructional classes from leaders in the construction industry to become better informed about the unique needs of older adults and have been trained in the universal design principles to design, build, and remodel homes so that they are barrier free.

Keith Davis, a CAPS in home modification and affiliate of 3-D Consultants, says that safety is the No. 1 rule, regardless of appearance or cosmetics. Davis said that modifications can range from highly extensive, such as creating an in-home hospital, to something as easy as installing entrance handrails or ramps.

Another up-and-coming concept in the home industry is visitability, which involves simple modifications to houses while they are being designed so that anyone who has a mobility impairment can visit. The three main criteria of visitability are: one no-step entrance into a home; doorways with at least a 32-inch clear space and a first-floor powder room large enough to accommodate a person in a wheelchair.

There are ways to ensure that home modifications provide a safe environment while not diminishing the property value of the home. This concept, called "universal design", blends the modifications and the existing construction together to create an aesthetically pleasing appearance.


One example, Davis says, would be to install a sloped, concrete sidewalk with nice landscape or a retaining wall which would provide the same accessibility as a pressure-treated ramp while still being visually attractive.

When starting the design and modification of your home, it is important to identify what changes need to be made. The National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications offers checklists on the center's website ( will assist in identifying the changes needed in each room of the residence. This list can then be taken to a remodeler who can further develop the plans.

Bathrooms can be one of the most dangerous rooms in a house due to lower levels of mobility, smaller spaces and slippery surfaces. Some modifications that would bode well in a bathroom included a raised toilet seat, grab bars for entering and exiting a tub, a tub bench and non-slip surfaces to walk on.

Bedrooms can be a very personal space for an individual, but with slight changes, they can still be safe and comfortable. One of the easiest ways to clear tripping hazards is to rearrange the furniture so pathways are unobstructed. This also includes positioning the bed to where it can be accessed from all sides but is still secured enough that if it were bumped, it would not move.

A few items that are important to have in reach from the bedside are a lamp or light switch and a telephone or contact device. It may also be a good idea to clearly list phone numbers that can be called in the case of emergency.

There are also devices that can be attached to a bed's side to create bedrails so that the elder can have assistance when entering and exiting the bed.

These slight modifications of a space can go a long way, especially if your loved one is still capable of taking care of their daily hygienic needs. Being able to keep a sense of independence can help the morale, energy and mind of someone in a caregiving situation.

When hiring a contractor to complete home modifications, remember some of the following points:

Make sure the contractor is insured and licensed to complete the required work.

Check with your local Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce to see if any complaints have been filed against the contractor.

Be sure to get in writing the cost of the job and the specific work that will be done.

Aging in place is also on the minds of younger individuals who intend to stay in their current home as long as possible. If you're thinking about making some home improvements/renovations, design them with an eye on the future, realizing that mobility and other issues come into play as one ages.