Remodeling for Retirement? What to Do Now for Safe, Healthy Aging In Place
Adapting and enhancing the residential environment for aging in place has become a hot topic in home design. Why? Because about 10,000 Americans are retiring every day—a number that has doubled since 2000 and that’s expected to rise in coming years. There’s even a new longevity economy, which deals with issues specific to retirees. Who knew “senior move manager” was even a thing?
Big picture: The very concept of retirement is morphing. Life expectancies are rising, so retirees now stand a good chance of enjoying 20, 30 or even more years free from those dreaded Monday morning meetings. And some of the concepts associated with aging—such as slowing down or moving into a senior home—simply do not appeal to baby boomers or Gen Xers, who plan to stay fit and engaged, thank you very much. (See more on this trend in Time to Rethink the Aging Adult Community.)
To sell or not to sell? Many older adults face this issue as they become empty nesters or retirees. Aging in place in your existing home can be a smart move, even when you factor in the costs of remodeling, reports NerdWallet. “A major home remodel can cost thousands of dollars. But it’s often less costly than senior living alternatives. A basic unit in an assisted living facility, for example, runs about $43,000 a year.”
But will modifications for aging in place create a home that has all the charm of a hospital room? Au contraire. Many design modifications can be done in ways that are stylish and seamlessly fit in with your current life and needs.
For example, replacing door knobs with levers is handy for homeowners of any age. Having doors you can open with your elbow is helpful when your arms are laden with groceries or shopping bags. Or here’s another example: Having a single-lever faucet in the kitchen makes it both easier to use and safer—you’re less likely to scald yourself. So why wait to replace that fixture?
Giving your home a flooring makeover can serve dual purposes: Making the home look more contemporary and reducing fall risks for when aging in place. Here’s what to consider:
- Choose flooring that is easy to clean and maintain—who wants to spend time scrubbing floors when you could be out playing?
- Look for slip-resistant materials, such as cork and rubber, rather than tile.
- Keep carpet pile low, with no more than ½-inch thickness, for easy navigation for anyone using a cane or a walker.
- Have a firm padding installed underneath any carpeting. This can provide a cushion for achy feet, and also protects in the event of a fall.
- Avoid area rugs, which may become a trip hazard.
Most falls in the home happen in the bathroom, according to the CDC, which is why installing safety features in the bathroom is top of the list for home modifications. According to Consumer Affairs, the best way to avoid falls is to install grab bars next to showers and tubs, as well as by the toilet. Towel bars are for towels; they are not strong enough to hold an adult’s weight. Instead, grab bars should be placed into wall studs for maximum stability. A newer alternative is security poles. They are tension mounted, go from the floor to the ceiling, and provide a balancing tool that can be used in multiple positions.
“One of the hottest trends for boomers doing bathroom makeovers is to swap out the soaking tub for a walk-in shower,” Bankrate.com’s Sonya Stinson writes. Designer Ebonee Bachman told her, “I’ve seen people who are remodeling their bathroom get rid of the whirlpool tub, which is standard now in the master suite, and put in a very large luxury shower that has a seat built in.”
A teak bench looks attractive, and gives a comfy and safe perch for bathing. Another aging in place tip: Mount toiletries such as body wash and shampoo in dispensers at a convenient height, so no one has to bend to reach what they need.
Of course, non-slip mats, non-slip tiles and non-slip strips should be used near and in showers and bathtubs. And ensure the shower area is well illuminated, with recessed lighting made to withstand moisture and heat.
Benefits of Steam Showers
As we age, incorporating health and wellness into daily life and our homes isn’t optional - it’s essential. Going to the gym, for a walk, or to a yoga class, for example, helps maintain vital muscle mass and promotes brain and heart health.
Residential steam showers are popular with homeowners looking to create aging-in-place and accessibility modifications. A steam shower is an investment that can pay off with many possible health benefits, including:
- May encourage deep, restful sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “As people age they tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger.” Taking a 20-minute steam bath may increase the length of REM cycles, crucial for restoring the body and mind.
- According to Healthline, the moist heat of a steam room may significantly improve overall circulation, which can lead to lower blood pressure and a decrease of stress hormones.
- Promoting muscle and ligament flexibility. This study, for example, showed that heat was beneficial in increasing the ability to bend the knee.
For more, read The 41 Benefits of Steam Bathing.
Starting in our mid-40s, vision starts to change, reports the American Optometric Association. First of all, we need more light overall to see clearly. Second, glare can also become a problem. And depth perception is altered. That’s why layered lighting—and lots of it—should be included in plans for aging in place.
Aim for higher ambient light levels overall, with special attention on key areas: porches, hallways and walkways, bathrooms, kitchen counters, and reading nooks. It’s crucial to have good lighting at the tops and bottoms of stairwells; you might even consider adding “theater” lighting that adds a soft glow of light to each step. A few more things to consider:
- Dimmers and task lights add flexibility during different tasks, such as watching TV, reading, or working on hobbies.
- Lighted switches are easier to find in the dark or dusk.
- Motion-activated systems illuminate a room when someone walks in, which is safer for seniors.
- Lastly, replace older toggle-style switches with easier-to-operate rocker-panel switches.
Smart-home innovations are often marketed to busy career types, but think how useful they can also be for aging in place modifications.
A smart refrigerator, for example, can help track what’s being used and ensure food is on-hand and fresh. Smart thermostats can monitor rooms, keeping them cozy when someone is inside, and saving on energy if no one is present. Smart doorbells and locks provide peace of mind for those living alone.
If you have a steam shower, a variety of steam shower controls automate the process. You can preset temperatures, set user preferences for everyone in the home, and autostart the steam shower from remote locations. SteamLinx even allows users to tell Amazon Alexa how to control the steam shower using voice commands.
Sooner, Rather Than Later
Just as we can’t put off saving for retirement until our 60s, we need to gradually invest in our physical environment early on. Your 30s or 40s are excellent life stages to start the process, so that when the time comes to retire, quality of life remains high.
So as you undertake a bathroom renovation or give your kitchen a makeover, think not only about color swatches and farmhouse sinks, but also about making changes that will allow you to comfortably age in place. For more on planning your home to match your future, read Steamtherapy Considers Aging in Place.