Here’s a set of numbers that doesn’t add up: In less than 20 years, a third of US households will be led by an adult over 65, but more than 95% of US homes lack aging-in-place features to make them safe and accessible for wheelchair users and seniors with other mobility challenges. Some forward-thinking designers, home builders and realtors are working to close the home-design gap by building accessible homes, adapting existing homes for seniors, and helping older home buyers find standalone homes and independent living communities with safety and comfort built in.
Adapting your existing home
Adapting your home for aging in place can be as simple as removing throw rugs and installing grab bars in the bathroom or as complex (and costly) as a total first-floor remodel to include wheelchair access, lower kitchen countertops, under-counter appliances, and a fully accessible bathroom. To ensure safe results and protect your home’s resale value, it’s a good idea to work with a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders. You can find CAPS-designated contractors in your area on the NAHB website.
Buying an adapted home
If you want to buy an existing home now that’s already been remodeled for aging in place, look for a certified Senior Real Estate Specialist. They can let you know what properties in the area fit your requirements. Don’t be surprised if the pickings are slim or even nonexistent. Remember, less than 5 percent of American homes include wheelchair accessibility features like ground-level entry and wider door frames. If there aren’t suitable options in your area, your senior Realtor may be able to recommend designers and builders who can help you create an accessible home from the ground up.
Building a home with universal design features
Architects and builders who have experience in universal design can help you make a home that’s beautiful, safe for aging in place, and welcoming to guests (and future buyers) of all abilities. Universal design makes it easy for everyone from small children to adults to access doorknobs, light switches, countertops, and other fixtures and faucets. Bathrooms are designed to reduce the risk of falls and scalds. Lighting is designed to accommodate people with low vision. Hallways, doorways, and entrances are built wider than standard so they’re easier for wheelchair and walker users to navigate.
If you’re not sure what to expect, check out the more than 10,000 photos of universal design projects on home and garden site Houzz. You can also ask your senior Realtor to recommend a home builder with a portfolio of universal design projects you can view or visit to get inspiration for your own aging-in-place dream home.
Finding an independent living community with universal design features
If you don’t want to build and there aren’t adapted homes on the market near you, consider looking at independent living communities, which are designed to meet seniors’ needs. The settings can range from city-center towers to cottages on suburban acreages and condos beside golf courses. You can use SeniorAdvisor.com’s independent living checklist when you visit prospective communities, to make notes and help you compare all your options.