How to Set Up Your Home for Aging in Place

Aging in place is the preferred way to get older.

In fact, numerous surveys and studies — including a 2022 study in the Delaware Journal of Public Health — show that a majority of adults prefer to stay in their homes for as long as possible.

However, simply remaining in the home where you’ve always lived may not be feasible for all seniors. In some cases, stairs and other physical characteristics of the home can make it more difficult to move around and stay in place long term.

Here are 13 things you can do to make your home safer and more comfortable for aging in place.

1. Start Now

Aging is inevitable, so you’ll need to plan ahead for your potential health needs.

“Making small changes now can help you avoid scrambling to make big changes later on when you have limited capacity,” says James Bowdler, London-based founder of PrimeCarers, a service that connects individuals with home health care services.

One way to get started is by connecting with a geriatric care manager or a care coordinator who can come into your home and complete a home safety and senior living assessment, says Stacey Eisenberg, a senior care expert and owner of A Place At Home of North Austin in Round Rock, Texas.

These experts can:

— Recommend ways to make the home safer

— Outline what senior-specific resources might be available in the area

— Develop a care plan

— Be an asset in the community if any situation arises

[READ: Independent Living for Seniors]

2. Eliminate Hazards

Safety should be the first priority in creating an environment that’s conducive to aging in place.

“Seniors typically have less mobility and physical agility, and their senses can be diminished,” says Diana Melichar, a LEED-certified registered architect and interior designer and owner of Melichar Architects in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Some changes to accommodate aging seniors include:

— Removing clutter and widening walkways

— Eliminating area rugs that are tripping hazards

— Replacing rugs or mats with non-slip options to reduce the risk of slips and falls

— Checking carpeting for frayed edges

— Increasing lighting levels by using higher output LED bulbs

[READ: Fall Prevention for the Elderly: 13 Strategies to Keep Them Safe]

3. Eliminate Stairs

Stairs pose a real challenge to many older adults, as arthritic knees and hips make navigating these areas challenging.

It may not be possible to eliminate all stairs without moving to a new house, but single floor living — even converting a dining room into a bedroom, for instance — is best.

“Adding a primary bedroom suite to the first floor of your home is ideal. If that’s not possible, then adding a chairlift or elevator is a second choice,” Melichar says.

[READ Does Medicare Cover Stair Lifts?]

4. Add Bathroom Elements

“Bathrooms are notoriously slippery,” notes Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Handyman, a Neighborly company headquartered in Waco, Texas. “Modifications, such as increasing support and providing firmer footing, are essential.”

Bathroom modifications for seniors often include:

— Nonslip shower floors

— Grab bars in the shower and alongside toilets

— Raised toilets

— Walk-in tubs

— Seats or a padded bench in the shower

5. Move Kitchen Appliances

Relocating kitchen appliances from upper cabinets to waist height can also reduce risk of injury. Plus, countertop appliances may be more accessible to seniors who have difficulty reaching overhead.

You may also want to lower counters and cabinets for seniors who use a wheelchair.

6. Swap Out Doorknobs

Small movements can become problematic for those with arthritis in the hands, wrists or fingers, making small movements — such as turning a doorknob — to be painful.

“Upgrading to lever-style door handles allows seniors to open doors without straining their hands and wrists,” Shimek says.

7. Widen Doorways

Standard doorways are typically too narrow to accommodate walkers, wheelchairs and similar mobility devices.

“Mobility challenges are often a part of aging, and without easy passage from room to room, seniors can feel frustrated, isolated and restricted,” Shimek says.

Unfortunately, widening doorways is not as simple as replacing a door knob because it requires working with a contractor who understands how to modify the home appropriately for aging in place and the needs of the elderly. While this is a bigger investment, it can make a big difference in keeping you in your home in the long term.

8. Add Ramps

To ease entry into the house, you may need to add a ramp to smooth the front door or garage stairs.

“For older adults relying on walkers or wheelchairs, steps can be impossible and severely limit their mobility,” Shimek says. “Installing ramps can eliminate obstacles and give seniors more independence.”

Ramps can also be useful for creating more level transitions between flooring surfaces to help minimize the risk of tripping or falling.

“This home modification for the elderly must be performed by licensed and experienced professionals to ensure the correct height and rise for safety,” Shimek adds.

9. Lighten Up

Many homes don’t have adequate lighting, which can pose a real challenge for seniors whose vision is declining.

Strategies to improve lighting around the house include:

— Installing motion-sensing nightlights near the bed and bathroom to make any middle-of-the-night treks from bed to toilet safer

— Adding task lighting, such as bedside and floor lamps to brighten dark spaces

— Covering or moving any power cords out of the way so they’re not a trip hazard

— Installing more ambient lighting, such as recessed lights

For in-wall light switches, consider replacing conventional toggle light switches with paddle light switches, which can be operated with the touch of a finger and are more straightforward to use.

10. Smarten Up

There are several new smart devices that can make aging in place easier, such as smart appliances and intelligent lighting. In many cases, you can control lighting, temperature control and other conveniences with a simple click or by giving a voice command on your smartphone.

11. Add Adjustable Furniture

Adjustable beds and recliners can be a good option to provide better comfort and mobility support.

“Lift chairs can support seniors to get to a standing position, if they have difficulties on their own from a seated position,” Eisenberg says.

Make sure all of the furniture in the house is safe and sturdy.

12. Add a Home Monitoring System

Home monitoring systems, which may come with medical alert systems, can alert caregivers and family members to unusual activity, falls and other emergencies.

As an important security measure, a doorbell that has a camera in it can also make it easier to keep tabs on who’s coming and going at the house.

13. Keep it Dry

Aging often means becoming more vulnerable to colds and other illnesses because the immune system starts to weaken.

You can help offset this by keeping your home warm and dry by “periodically running a dehumidifier in your living room and bedroom to remove moisture from the air and reduce your chance of developing pulmonary diseases,” Bowdler says.

Potential Drawbacks

While aging in place is often viewed as the ideal, there are problems that can arise, including:

Isolation and loneliness. Seniors with declining mobility may be less able to get out of the house. You need a plan in place, such as in-home visits, technology-based interactions and social outings, to prevent loneliness and associated physical issues and depression.

Masking decline. An older adult living alone may try to hide their physical or mental decline to avoid moving to a senior living facility or hiring in-home care. Even family members who visit frequently may not observe problems until a crisis situation. You’ll need to stay vigilant for any changes that indicate your loved one’s health is faltering.

Financial burdens. Aging in place may not be affordable for every senior, particularly those in older homes or on fixed incomes. Over time, care expenses can grow as well.

The Bottom Line

Aging in place can be the best option for many people. By making some or all of these changes, you may be able to extend your time at home indefinitely.

“Maintaining independence is probably the number one reason most seniors would choose to age in place, if possible,” Eisenberg says. “It is very difficult to give up the last bits of their sense of control, which gives them a higher quality of life and overall well-being. Change is always difficult, and moving is always stressful.”

Remaining at home longer can also help seniors keep critical social ties to their community, friends and loved ones and the memories and emotional attachment they have to their home.

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Pros and Cons of Assisted Living

How to Set Up Your Home for Aging in Place originally appeared on

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