Maybe this isn’t your exact question. It might be more along the lines of, “Do I need a grab bar now?” or “Will I need a ramp in the future?” Maybe you’re not even thinking about home modifications for yourself. You may be researching different modifications to help your parents, grandparents, or older family friends stay in their own homes. Whatever the reason, knowing the types of modifications and products to buy are important for staying independent in the present and future.
Top Aging Products – Start Small, Then Add More
Surprisingly, none of these products include botox. They’re all things that can easily be installed in the home at different times, meaning you don’t have to change your home all at once. Products like grab bars and handrails can be installed at any time. It might be one grab bar at the entrance of your shower now, and then in a few years adding more around the toilet.
The Top Five Most Sought After Products and Home Modifications
Ramps are yet another modification that can be completed when the need arises; or if you’re looking to update your landscaping, it might be good to install one now and incorporate it into the design.
It’s important to keep in mind that you will need one foot of ramp for every one inch of rise. Typically, stairs have seven inches of rise between each step; therefore, you would need 14 feet of ramp for two, seven-inch-high steps.
Threshold ramps are different than the ramps we’re talking about here. They create a smooth transition between the floor and across the threshold of a door. If you shuffle, use a walker or in a wheelchair, thresholds can pose a serious threat to falling or not making it over with wheels. The ramp is there to create a smooth path through the doorway, allowing wheels to easily cross over.
Doorways are often overlooked when it comes to aging-in-place home modifications. Yet, they are important to continue an independent lifestyle. Navigating doorways can be difficult if you have mobility concerns. Maneuvering around an open door in a wheelchair or walker may be impossible in some situations. Barn doors have become a popular option with homeowners but also provide a solution to mobility issues.
Barn doors slide instead of swing upon opening or closing. There is no need to account for space around the doorway to allow for swinging of the door. It’s also easier to slide rather than to turn a knob and pull open.
If barn doors aren’t your style or there’s a room that needs a traditional door, consider installing lever handles instead of knobs. Lever handles are much easier to open if someone has arthritis or mobility limitations in their hands. Grabbing a knob and turning it may be difficult for some people. However, you can still open a door with a fist if it has a lever. Just make sure to get one with a return on it to avoid catching clothes and bags on it.
One last point about doorways: Reverse how the bathroom door opens. Bathroom doors should open out rather than inward. When the door opens inward, it creates unsafe situations. For instance, if you fell against the door and blocked it, no one would be able to open the door to help you. If the door opens out, there is no chance for the door to be blocked from opening on the inside. It also frees up space in the bathroom, especially if it’s a smaller one. No need to account for extra swinging space between the toilet or vanity.
Stairlifts aren’t something you’ll jump on installing tomorrow if you’re still able to walk up and down stairs easily. However, they are one modification that is good to know. Stairlifts promote independence for those unable to safely and comfortably navigate stairs. They operate by a touch of the button. There is only the need for an outlet close by to plug the lift in. If mobility is a concern, it might be wise to consider installing a stairlift in the home. Carrying bulky or heavy items, like clean laundry in a basket, up the stairs may be difficult for someone. However, the stairlift will carry a passenger and their heavy items smoothly up and down the stairs.
2. Grab Bars
Installing grab bars is one of the most inexpensive ways to add stability around the home when balance becomes a concern. As we age, we tend to lose our balance. If you notice anyone holding onto the wall while they walk, they most likely have balance issues and are afraid to fall. By having grab bars in key areas, like the bathroom or around doorways, you will be taking the right steps toward fall prevention.
From a design aspect, grab bars come in colors to match or stand out in the room. However, if seeing is a concern now or might become one, reach for contrasting colors to the wall. This will help the grab bar stand out and easily be seen. They also come in a material that is warm to the touch for those cold winter days.
The top home modification as you age is the bathroom. It rolls in at No. 1 because of its overhanging safety concerns. The bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house, so taking the right steps to make it safe as you age is paramount.
Modifications to include in your bathroom – which can be taken step-by-step – are a walk-in shower, wall-mounted vanity (a.k.a. floating vanity), wall-hung toilet, non-slip flooring, lever handles on the faucet, and grab bars in the shower and around the toilet. These are just a few ideas to get you started. If blood circulation is an issue, you may want to consider installing heated floors to protect those toes from getting stubbed and to prevent falling. Modifications can be made in pieces as the need arises. However, there are some we advise to make sooner than later.
We always recommend starting modifications by transforming any tubs into barrier-free showers. If you have a shower with a curb, but you can easily get in and out, you may want to put a grab bar near the entrance to give you extra support while taking that step. Grab bars in the shower are a must, no matter what kind of shower you install. Installing one at the entrance and one on the back wall is a good start. The next step would be including a foldable seat so no one has to stand the entire time while bathing.
When designing your shower, consider including a diverter and a handheld showerhead. The diverter on the water control will save you from reaching up to the showerheads to adjust where the water is coming from. Diverters are great to have because you can have the main showerhead running while using the handheld to bathe, keeping the shower in total warmth.
After the shower, you’ll want to install a comfort-height or wall-hung toilet. Comfort-height toilets sit a few inches higher than standard toilets, making it easier to sit down and stand up. Wall-hung toilets free up space in your bathroom and can be installed at custom heights. The plumbing and tank sit in the wall, leaving more space under and around the toilet.
Lighting high traffic and work areas of your home are more critical than one may think. As we get older, our eyesight tends to worsen. Bright, redundant lighting will lessen any injury risks associated with the inability to see properly.
Redundant lighting simply means having multiple lights in the same area. So when one goes out, you have more around it still working to keep the area lit. You won’t have to worry about walking through the dark and dim if a light goes out and you can’t change it immediately. With multiple lights still working in the area, you can wait until someone can help you change the bulb or until you buy more. Whichever your situation is.
Platform lifts, although you may not need one now, are something you should be aware of as a solution. If you currently can walk up and down your porch or deck stairs easily, that’s great. But that may not last forever. Knowing there’s a solution to keep you independent if you use a wheelchair or scooter in the future will put you ahead of the game, saving you from staying inside for too long. Again, this is a product that is typically installed when the need emerges.
We’re going to share some shocking news with you right now. The banister is not a handrail in itself. A handrail attached to the banister is the proper way of providing extra stability for walking up and downstairs. Adding one with a return is even better. Having the return on the end of the rail will keep shirts and bags from being caught on the end, just like the lever handles mentioned above. We’ve all done it — catching our grocery bag on the end of the handrail, tripping us as we attempt to walk up the stairs to the door, half falling and pulling our shoulder out of place by the time we realize what happened. The return saves us from embarrassment and injury by closing off the end of the rail completely.
Make a Plan for Your Future
Creating a plan for the future should include more than securing finances and personal assets. Your plan should also include ideas of what you may need as you age. Start small and continue adding aging products as your needs change. For now, it may be extra lighting. In 10 years, it could be a grab bar here and there. In another 10 years, it might be a ramp or stairlift. Knowing what these products are now and how they play a role in creating independence will help you continuously adapt as life changes.