The reality of ageing is hitting many baby boomers, and as a result many contractors are responding to the demand for home renovations that accommodate a wider variety of physical abilities. Ageing -in-Place is the word many home improvement specialists are using to describe the phenomenon of people choosing to adapt their homes to their changing physical abilities, rather than moving to assisted living or "retirement" situations. The once institutional-looking medical accessories of old have been replaced by beautiful and efficient Universal Design principles.
The idea behind Universal Design is attractive home design that accommodates all ages and all levels of ability in a family. Consider that maneuvering a baby carriage and a walker through a house require about the same amount of space. Stepless entryways and wider thresholds make it easier to wheel luggage in and out - anyone can benefit from them. Well-designed outdoor ramps can actually make your house look bigger and add value to it. Universal Design gives everyone in the house more independence and efficiency.
The cheapest, and incidentally the most important, way you can make your house safer for older people is to remove area rugs from the floors. The most common cause of injury for older people is falling. You can significantly cut the risk of tripping and falling by clearing clutter, rugs, and decorative ornaments from passageway floors. Hardwood floors are the safest option for people who shuffle when they walk. If your home has tile or stone floors, coat them with a non-slip solution. If you have wall-to-wall carpeting, tack the carpet down well and be sure that it is flat and does not bunch anywhere.
Add additional light to your house to make it safer. Simple nightlights can prevent falls when getting up in the middle of the night. Remove heavy drapes to let in more natural light. Add task-specific lighting to places like the kitchen and bathroom, where accidents are prone to occur. Removing interior doors allows more light to flow through the house, and it clears the way for walkers and wheelchairs.
The bathroom is the most dangerous area in the house for people with balance and strength problems. A walk in shower or bath with grab bars is crucial for adapting your house to suit new ability needs. The new grab bars on the market look like upscale towel bars - they're functional and fashionable. Coat bathroom tiles with nonslip solution or add non-slip floor treads. Another risk for older people in the bathroom is scalding hot water. Temperature controls, single knob faucets, and hand-wave faucets prevent injury and are easier for people with arthritis. Lowering your sink and clearing out the space underneath it will make it possible for someone in a wheelchair to use the sink.
Since the main idea of Universal Design is to allow people of all abilities to live independently, adapting the kitchen is key. Think about your back - place appliances like washing machines and dish washers higher so that you don't have to bend over to use them. Lower countertops to the height of table tops so that you can work at them while sitting down. Pull out countertops are a way to adapt existing counters. Open drawers are easy to trip over, so self-closing drawers are a great option for those who are Ageing-In-Place. Cook surfaces can be a risk for burning. Induction cook tops, which do not create surface heat, are very popular with people who renovate their homes for age. If you do keep your gas cook top, install a gas sensor.
More and more contractors are becoming Certified Ageing-In-Place Specialists. You can find more information about CAPS certified contractors from the National Ageing in Place Council.