According to a national poll by the AARP, three out of four adults over age 50 want to “age in place” — or stay in their home as they get older. However, a poll from the University of Michigan reported that only 15% of seniors have seriously considered how to renovate their homes to accommodate their needs as they age.
Why the disconnect? Many seniors aren’t sure if they can afford to hire help or renovate their homes. Others believe they will eventually have to move anyway, despite wanting to “age in place.” Or sometimes, the idea of making plans for the future can just feel daunting.
Luckily, many resources are available to help seniors live safely in their homes.
Why is Home Safety Important for Seniors?
The vast majority of people would like to continue living in their homes as they get older. However, homes can pose accessibility issues and safety risks for older people. One major risk for seniors living in their homes is falling:
- Each year, one in four adults over age 65 experiences a fall.
- One in every five falls leads to a serious injury, including a broken bone or head trauma.
- Every year, 3 million older adults go to the emergency room to treat fall injuries.
Risk factors like vitamin D deficiency, the use of certain medications and difficulties walking can lead to falls. However, home hazards like clutter on the floor, uneven steps or slippery bathroom floors are serious fall risks that you can avoid with some preparation.
Homes can be designed with safety in mind, and home improvements for seniors can reduce the risk of falls and increase accessibility. Despite this, only 36% of respondents in an AARP poll said they plan to renovate their house so they can continue living there as they age.
What is Aging in Place?
Aging in place is when you choose to stay in your home as you age rather than move to a retirement community, assisted living facility or nursing home.
In order to age in place successfully, you have to anticipate your changing needs and prepare accordingly. Although you will continue living in your home, you may need additional support caring for yourself, doing chores, preparing meals or generally moving around your home.
Pros and Cons of Aging in Place for the Elderly
Everyone’s needs and living situations are different. As time passes, your needs will likely change as well. If you do choose to age in place, you should reassess your needs regularly with a close family member, friend or caretaker to see if you need additional support.
Pros of Aging in Place
- More independence and autonomy in your own home
- More comfort living in your own space
- More familiar with the layout and features of your home
- You can stay connected with your neighbors and community
Cons of Aging in Place
- Getting around can become more difficult as you get older
- Navigating stairs and household dangers can pose a risk
- As aging advances, caring for oneself and your home can become challenging
- Meeting new people and finding companionship can be harder
Caregivers and Aging in Place
If you are a caregiver for an older person, there’s a chance your responsibilities will change as the person you care for ages. But your role can also change day-to-day. Whether you are a friend, family member or professional caregiver, you’ll want to establish the needs of the person you are caring for.
Below are some baseline questions concerning household tasks, accessibility and community that you can review with the person you are caring for. The questions can help you determine if their home is safe to age in place and what level of care is needed.
- Can you complete household tasks like lawn care, grocery shopping, cleaning and laundry without assistance?
- Do you feel comfortable setting up your own doctor’s appointments, paying your own bills and managing your finances?
- Are you able to plan and cook your own meals, or do you need me or someone else to help you with this?
- Do you have a hygiene routine that you are able to complete daily? Do you remember to take your medicine and do so safely?
- Can you walk up the stairs safely and with ease? Do you feel safe walking around your home?
- Are there currently things on the floor, slippery surfaces or uneven stairs that could lead to a fall in your home?
- Do you feel comfortable driving or taking public transportation alone to get where you need to go?
- What changes could we make so that your home is accessible and safe?
- Do you feel lonely? How often would you like someone to check in on you?
- Do you have a support network of friends, neighbors, family members and care professionals?
- Are you able to communicate with your loved ones regularly and in a way that is comfortable for you?
Once you understand the needs of the person you’re caring for, you can create a schedule to check in and assist your loved one as needed.
As a caregiver, navigating these conversations with a loved one can be difficult. Many people feel embarrassed admitting they need help or do not want to acknowledge that their needs are changing. Because of this, you may not be able to have a completely candid conversation about the questions above or even have the conversation at all.
However, as a caregiver, you can use other resources to ensure that you are making the right decisions for your loved one. For starters, you can try getting the consent of your loved one to attend a doctor’s appointment with them to discuss their needs.
You can also speak to someone that the person you’re caring for trusts, like someone they live with, a very close friend or family member. This way, you can get more insight into their daily life and struggles.
Resources for Caregivers
Being a caregiver can be stressful and difficult, but it is also rewarding. As a caregiver, don’t forget to take care of yourself and find a support group to help you navigate your responsibilities.
Here are some top resources for caregivers:
- National Institute on Aging: Learn more about being a caregiver, including long-term care, advance care planning, long-distance caregiving, and Alzheimer’s caregiving
- AARP: How to find a caregiver support group
- American Heart Association: Tips for maintaining your health and well-being as a caregiver
- Find more resources for caregivers on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website
Home Safety Checklist and Renovation Tips for Seniors
Planning is key to making sure your home is safe. Planning ahead, discussing your needs and completing repairs and aging-in-place remodeling before a serious accident occurs can make aging-in-place a better experience for yourself and everyone involved.
Home Safety for Seniors
If you or a loved one chooses to age in place, it’s important to assess the home’s safety. Go through the house carefully and consider certain safety factors like falls, poisoning and scams. Make a plan about what to do in case of an emergency.
- Falls: Move anything off the ground that could be a tripping or slipping hazard. If you’re worried about falls, you can purchase a medical alert bracelet or necklace. As a senior aging in place, always keeping your phone on you is a good idea. You can also speak with your healthcare provider about preemptively preparing for a fall with exercise programs.
- Poisoning: Improperly using or mixing medications or cleaning products can be harmful or deadly. In general, keep harsh cleaning products like bleach out of the house. Have your pharmacist confirm that you are taking all medication properly and give you large-print labels for pill bottles.
- Scams: Countless scams target older people. Establish a game plan with your loved one about what you will do if you receive a suspicious call or someone shows up at your door. Never open the door to strangers or let them in your home, and never share personal information over the phone or online. If you are uncertain whether or not something is a scam, you can always say that you will get back to the person after checking the legitimacy of their business.
Of course, you want to prepare for emergencies, but it’s best to avoid them in the first place. You can make many simple renovations to ensure your home is safe and does not pose a danger to yourself or your loved ones.
Home Renovations and Remodeling for Seniors
Many homes are not designed to accommodate elderly people or people with mobility problems. To age in place safely, caregivers and seniors must carefully consider how to make the home safe, which could include home improvements and repairs.
An AARP poll found that seniors are most likely to renovate their bathrooms or entryways to enhance their safety in the home. However, every room in a house can be modified for safety depending on the unique needs of the person who lives there.
Bathroom floors and surfaces can become extremely slippery, posing a serious falling risk. Other potential dangers in the bathroom include burns from scalding hot water and falls from getting on and off the toilet. So, how can you fix this?
- Install grab bars around the tub and a shower seat for comfort and accessibility
- Add non-slip mats in the shower and on the bathroom floor to alleviate the risk of falling on slippery tiles
- Reduce the risk of burns by setting the water heater to a maximum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, as recommended by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)9
- Install good lighting, including a nightlight, for improved visibility and to prevent disorientation
- Install an ADI-compliant raised toilet seat with grab bars to make sitting on and getting off the toilet easier
- Install a walk-in tub or shower
The main challenges in a bedroom can be getting in and out of bed and climbing upstairs to access the room. You can make the bedroom safer by:
- Moving the bedroom downstairs to avoid stairs (if the bedroom is upstairs)
- Installing a home stair lift, if it is not possible to move the bedroom downstairs
- Installing grab bars above the bed to help get in and out
- Practicing exercises that help maintain stability and muscles needed to get in and out of bed
The kitchen is a high-risk area for burns, cuts and falls. You can make the kitchen safer and more user-friendly by:
- Adding non-slip mats to prevent falls
- Lowering the countertop height and installing pullout drawers for wheelchair accessibility
- Adding a work table in the kitchen (if it isn’t possible to lower the countertops)
- Putting away very sharp or large knives to avoid cuts
- Rounding out or cushioning sharp edges (like on counters) to prevent bumps
Although living rooms do not pose as much risk as other spaces in the house, a cluttered or cramped living space can make the living room inaccessible or hazardous. Avoid dangers by:
- Picking any unnecessary items off the floor
- Moving furniture to create a more open floor plan
- Securing rugs using rug gripper or tape so that they do not fold or bubble up
There are also general precautions you can apply throughout the home to increase safety, including:
- Install non-slip flooring that has sufficient cushioning and reduces slips. Thick carpet, cork, rubber, or vinyl are good options
- Replace door handles from knobs to lever latches for easier turning and improved grip
- Improve lighting throughout the house to ensure rooms are well-lit. Dim rooms, especially at night, can lead to disorientation, collisions, and falls
- If you use a wheelchair or walker, have the doorways widened for accessibility
- Other general home repairs like fixing broken or uneven stairs to remove tripping hazards
4 Home Improvement Grants and Financial Assistance for Senior Citizens
Below are a few federal, state and local financial resources that offer subsidized or free home repairs for seniors.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Single Family Housing Repair Loans & Grants: The USDA has state-specific resources for home repair loans and grants. Although qualifications for these Section 504 Home Repair Program loans vary, elderly, low-income homeowners typically qualify. Learn more here.
- Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs): Although Area Agencies on Aging operate regionally, they are available throughout the U.S. to offer repair funds for senior home modifications. These programs are provided through the Older Americans Act. Learn more and find your local AAA here.
- Weatherization Assistance Programs (WAPs): WAPs offer low-income and elderly households energy efficiency upgrades through grant funding. These programs provide services like caulking, HVAC maintenance, insulation and more to help households save on energy bills. Learn more about the application process here.
- Medicare and Medicaid: Your Medicaid may help you pay for senior home renovations to allow for safe aging in place. You can also have medical equipment covered, including walkers and bathtub safety benches. Contact your local Medicare or Medicaid office to learn more.
3 Organizations That Help With Aging in Place for Elderly
- National Council on Aging (NCOA): The NCOA has helped secure landmark programs and legislation that help seniors, like Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act. They offer tools, resources and services to improve the livelihood of older adults. Learn more here.
- Habitat for Humanity: Habitat for Humanity has an aging-in-place program that provides home repairs, modifications and community services to improve housing and health equity for seniors. Learn more here.
- Meals on Wheels: Meals on Wheels is a nationwide program that operates through thousands of locally-run volunteer groups. Meals on Wheels provides healthy food and other resources to people in need.
- Learn about more organizations that help older people aging in place here.
5 Tech Tools and Apps for Elderly Safety
Older adults are embracing technology now more than ever. AARP’s 2022 tech survey found that three in four older adults use technology to stay connected. The senior community has seen an increase in the use of nearly all technologies in recent years, including video chat, texting and social media.
As older adults become more comfortable incorporating technology into their daily lives, more tech tools designed to help seniors navigate their lives have hit the market. Here are some of the best (and most affordable) tech tools for elder safety:
- Snug Safety app: Snug Safety is an app that allows seniors to check in daily on their phones. If the senior does not check in once a day, the app will message their emergency contacts to alert them that they may need help.
- Lively Link app: Lively Link is also a check-in app for seniors, but it also allows seniors to share the location of their phone, changes in daily activities, whether or not their phone is on and their phone’s battery level. Additionally, the app will automatically notify emergency contacts if the senior contacts emergency services.
- Tile Tracker: The Tile Tracker can help seniors find missing items. Just download the app and connect the physical tile to a commonly lost item, like a wallet or purse. If you lose the item, you can use your phone to activate an alarm on the lost item.
- Virtual retirement communities: Virtual retirement communities let seniors enjoy the activities and connection of a retirement community without having to leave their homes. Learn more about the increasing popularity of virtual retirement communities here.
- Smart plugs and locks: The rise of the “smart home” can also be convenient for seniors. You can now control lights, plugs, locks and more in your home with simple devices that connect to your smartphone.