The U.S. is headed for what could be called a “silver era.” According to the Census Bureau, all baby boomers will be older than age 65 by 2030. This benchmark means that one out of every five U.S. residents will be of retirement age. What’s more, older people will outnumber children for the first time in the country’s history.
While research from the Alliance for Aging projects that the population of people aged 65 and older will be 71 million by 2030, we know that just 10% of homes are ready for this group.
This is fixable. Senior-friendly home design involves creating living spaces that suit the needs of elderly individuals. It’s often referred to as aging-in-place design because it creates a safe, accommodating environment for adults seeking to spend their retirement years enjoying the comfort and familiarity of home. Adding a step-free entryway, first-floor bathroom and bedroom, and at least one bathroom accessibility feature can all contribute to senior-friendly home design, which we’ll delve into below.
3 Benefits of Senior-friendly Home Design
What’s the value of making home upgrades for senior living? According to the Home and Community Preferences Survey taken by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 77% of adults aged 50 and older want to remain in their homes for the long term. Take a look at why empowering seniors to live at home benefits them, their loved ones, and the entire community.
Safety and Independence
“A familiar environment and place can contribute to an older adult’s sense of identity, can promote successful utilization of neighborhood services, and can help one remain socially connected thanks to the proximity of friends,” according to an article published by the Delaware Journal of Public Health. Seniors enjoy mental benefits from being in a familiar space they can control. As we age, it’s common to face physical limitations. Knowing that a home can accommodate those limitations decreases the fear of an uncertain future.
“When an individual is able to age in their own home, they are granted a daily sense of familiarity, whether that consists of morning greetings from a household pet, contact with neighbors, or the ability to surround themselves with physical objects that represent cherished memories,” notes the same journal article. A routine in a home seniors know and love can also contribute to their sense of purpose.
Many families are understandably stressing over the impending costs of full-time senior care. According to a 2021 cost survey, a private room in a nursing home costs $297 per day. That adds up to close to $10,000 per month. While selecting a semi-private room can bring the price down to just below $8,000, it’s a significant expense.
Many of the upgrades and renovations needed to integrate senior-friendly features into a home only cost the equivalent of one or two months in an assisted living facility. Some might even cost just a fraction of that. Incorporating senior-friendly design features can help seniors save money in the long run by allowing them to remain safely in their homes (which may also be increasing in value).
Health and Well-Being
Aging in place gives seniors access to a variety of in-home resources. They’re able to create their own schedules for physical activity, make their own healthy meal choices, and enjoy privacy when they want it.
Aging in place can also reduce tensions within the larger family network. When an aging parent needs to move in with their child, the parent-child role reversal can be a challenging dynamic. Allowing an aging parent to stay at home allows children to provide support without taking on full-time caregiver roles.
Don’t forget the benefits of being able to control one’s environment when thinking about safety for seniors. When redoing a home for senior accessibility, good lighting and ventilation can improve visibility and indoor air quality to promote everything from fall prevention to better respiratory health. Seniors living at home are also isolated from viruses and illnesses that they would be exposed to when living in close proximity to others.
Top Five Ways to Incorporate Senior-Friendly Design Into a Home
What does good senior home design look like? It takes into account the challenges and limitations that seniors can experience to remove risks and obstacles. It uses both layout and technology to create a space where a senior can go about their day without the need to constantly find workarounds for accomplishing tasks. The six senior-friendly home design tips below provide the perfect starting point.
1. Consider Outdoor Spaces
Start with the exterior first. Outdoor spaces should be designed with senior-friendly features in mind. Consider installing a ramp that allows a senior to go from the car to the home without concerns over trips and falls. Of course, all walkways should be flat and easy to navigate.
If the home has a patio or deck, non-slip surfaces can help prevent nasty falls. Is there a gardener in the home? Encourage the healthy habit of exercising a green thumb by installing a low-maintenance garden with raised flower beds. Additionally, updating the landscaping to include low-maintenance plants can make yard care both easy and satisfying. Finally, create spaces for shade and seating.
2. Install Safety Features
Data collected from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding fall prevention reveals that three million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries annually. The bathroom is often the most important starting point for preventing falls. According to the AARP survey discussed earlier, 79% of poll participants said they would need to modify bathrooms with grab bars or no-step showers.
Of course, the bathroom is just the beginning. Here’s a look at essential upgrades for a senior-friendly home:
- Grab bars near the toilet, shower, and bathtub
- Non-slip flooring/anti-slip rubber mats
- Staircase handrails
- Easy-to-reach storage areas
- Adjustable-height countertops
The rule to follow when auditing the home room by room is to check for unstable or otherwise hazardous surfaces that could cause trips or collisions. In addition, everything that a senior needs to either use or interact with on a daily basis should be available at eye level.
3. Increase Accessibility
What looks like a beautifully decorated home to one person can feel like an obstacle course for a senior facing mobility or coordination challenges. Controlling the flow of traffic inside a senior’s home is important.
Rearrange major living areas to ensure that someone can move around without bumping into things, knocking things over, or tripping over tables or ottomans below waist height. It’s also important to promote a clutter-free environment.
If remodeling is on the table, consider widening doorways to help avoid trips and falls. Wider doorways can also accommodate seniors using mobility devices. When upgrading furniture, it’s helpful to know that taller furniture makes it easier for seniors to get onto and off of beds, chairs, and sofas.
The smallest changes can also have huge benefits for quality of life. For example, adding lever handles on faucets and doors can reduce the need to strain.
Finally, it’s important to have a conversation about the idea of installing a stair lift in a two-story home. While this requires an investment, it is often much more affordable than adding a bedroom or bathroom to a home’s first level.
4. Improve Lighting
Lighting is often underestimated as a factor in falls. Proper lighting throughout a home prevents falls and other injuries by increasing visibility and spatial awareness.
There are some easy hacks for senior-friendly lighting. Cooler lights are perceived as brighter by the brain, so they’re better than warmer lights for guiding seniors.
Dimmer switches are great for adjusting lighting levels throughout the day. Of course, any lighting fixtures or switches added to a home should be easy to use. Consider upgrading to lights controlled by voice activation, motion activation, or remote control.
5. Integrate Technology
For seniors, a smart home is a safe home. Using a mix of technology and common sense, seniors and their family members can prevent common causes of injury.
Smart home technology can be integrated into the home to provide seniors with additional safety and security features. Installing remote monitoring systems, emergency alert systems, and smart home automation provides great peace of mind — they can do some of the thinking for a senior during both everyday tasks and emergency situations. The top smart features to consider adding to a senior-friendly home include:
- Smart lighting that goes on and off on timers
- Smart smoke detectors that send alerts to outside devices
- Smart displays and voice communication devices that allow a senior to activate lighting, smart devices, and more whenever they enter a room
- Smart contact sensors that help seniors with dementia or cognitive decline by alerting them if they forget to close a door or window
- Water leak sensors that go off when moisture is detected to prevent flooding and water damage
- Smart locks that allow outside family members or caregivers to remotely lock a door they suspect may have been left unlocked
Discuss a Plan With Friends and Family
Creating a senior-friendly home design for aging in place can be an empowering experience. When taking on this responsibility, it’s important to involve family and friends in the process. This ensures everyone who will or could be a helper is on the same page. Below are some tips for creating a smooth process.
Start the Conversation Early
Start the conversation as early as possible to avoid the need to go into crisis mode after a fall or accident increases the stakes. This approach allows you to make upgrades in stages. For example, installing handrails, adding slip-resistant flooring to a patio, or upgrading lighting to smart lighting can all be weekend projects completed over several months.
Identify Needs and Wants
Starting with an audit is always great. This will help to identify needs. Once core safety risks are addressed, a list of wants can be created. Needs are upgrades that directly improve health and safety. Wants are conveniences that make life easier for a senior. This is important if certain items need to be prioritized over others due to budget constraints. Make a list that ranks items from most to least important when making a long-term plan for upgrades.
Set Realistic Expectations
Turning a home into a senior paradise overnight isn’t always feasible. It’s important to set realistic expectations that allow you to address pressing needs. First, set a timeline for both individual projects and total completion. Next, create a budget.
It’s important to assess and plan for any challenges you can anticipate. This can include issues with a home’s layout or age, time constraints, or your ability to tackle more-sophisticated upgrades.
Seek Professional Advice
After assessing challenges, you may decide that professional advice is necessary for bigger projects. Electricians, architects, contractors, and other professionals specializing in senior-friendly design in your local area should be able to help you navigate these projects. Working with a professional also ensures that any updates you make are up to code. This could become important if the home you’re upgrading is ever sold. Of course, the most important aspect of doing a project the right way is that you’re creating a safe, comfortable environment where a senior can thrive.
It’s unrealistic to expect the senior population to simply adapt to homes that don’t fit their needs — homes should be able to adapt to the changing needs of seniors. Fortunately, there are more ways than ever before to use technology and safety-first add-on features to help seniors avoid accidents and injuries while enjoying independence at home. A home made for aging in place gives a senior the gift of well-being on their own terms.