Q: After raising five children my husband and I have been “empty nesters” for quite a few years. We’ve realized it doesn’t make sense to stay in this large house and it is time to downsize. We have decided to purchase a new residence before we retire and want to stay in the area since all of our adult children and grandchildren live nearby. It is important to us to find a home where we can age in place. Do you have any suggestions as to what we should think about when either looking at existing structures or deciding to build?
A: Try to envision how you will function in an environment once you start to experience the normal changes that take place as a person ages. Regardless of how much emphasis you put on healthy living, some physical differences are inevitable for most of us. Simple design choices can allow a person to live independently longer.
The most obvious change later in life is a person’s mobility diminishes and they have less balance. Finding a single level home is optimal. If the home has multi-levels, make sure there is first floor living options (bedroom and bathroom). Steps can be a hazard even for younger people, avoid or minimize these whenever possible. Look for wider hallways and doorways in the event one of you requires the use of a walker or wheelchair.
Bathrooms work best if there is a walk-in shower with a handheld wand and seat installed. Grab bars are highly advised and raised toilet seats make it easier to sit and stand. Anti-scald devices should be installed or the hot water heater should be set at a maximum of 120 degrees.
Indirect lighting reduces glare and shadows. Electrical outlets should be 18 to 24 inches off the floor, making it easier for a person to plug in an appliance without bending down too far. Awning-type windows are easier to open and close. Door levers as opposed to doorknobs are easier on the hands. Light switches with rocker panels are preferred over flip switches. Taking it to the next level, front door locks, lighting and thermostats can be controlled with a smart phone or tablet.
Flooring should be soft and smooth. Avoid high pile and heavily padded carpets which can throw off a person’s balance. Scatter rugs should not be used due to tripping hazard. If there are any thresholds in the residence paint them a different color to distinguish the change in floor height.
If there are any continuing care communities located nearby, consider touring standalone homes that may be a part of the development. These have been constructed with an aging population in mind. You would get a good sense of what may work for you. Talk with friends to find out what they have found helpful in their own home or what they would change to make life easier.
If you decide to build a new residence, inquire if there are any architects or designers certified in Aging in Place. By planning ahead you may be more successful in your desires to remain in the community as long as possible.
Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our staff is available for a no-cost consultation, set up at your convenience, to help guide you through your caregiving experience. For more details or to schedule an appointment, please call 800-892-0890.
Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to email@example.com or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services.