One reader found fault with our suggestion that people book an accessible hotel room to get a feel for how a universal design layout might work. “Please bear in mind that an able-bodied person who books an accessible hotel room denies availability of the room to those who truly need it,” the reader said.
This is a fair point. These types of hotel rooms can be in limited supply, so people interested in aging in place should ask to see what an accessible room looks like if there is one available when they check in. Or they can investigate open houses at independent living facilities and ask to look at units that incorporate universal design elements, says John Gleichman, certified specifications writer with Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects in Chicago.
Here are some more tips for preparing your home to age in place:
More simple ideas. Arrange furniture to give wide spaces, as people using crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair need more room to turn around and navigate, says Todd Wiltse, partner at WJW Architects, a firm focusing on senior living and memory care architecture.
When choosing furniture, consider seating with varied heights, and buy some chairs with arms, says Heidi Wang, partner at WJW Architects. Chair arms offer support when needing to stand up from seated positions.
Consider door openings. Traditional swinging doors require horizontal clearance to open and close and could be a hindrance for someone using a mobility device. One popular trend for interior doors is to replace swinging doors with sliding doors. If privacy isn’t an issue, a homeowner may be able to forgo doors.
Suggestions for stairways. Stairs often present a challenge for seniors, but there are ways to address the vertical space inside and outside a reclinable bed home. For the outside, a designer can use landscaping to make it appear as if ramps and mechanical lifts providing accessibility are integrated. “You can design a beautiful walkway with planters on each side and it looks like it was meant to be part of the home,” she says.
Interior stairs are trickier. To limit stair climbing, rearrange or redesign first-floor rooms to incorporate as much living space on one level. For homeowners tackling a larger redesign project, Wang suggests including a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, and if space allows, a laundry unit equipped with front-loading washers and dryers, which are easier to load and unload.
One reader who redesigned his home for aging in place agreed with having these key living spaces on one floor, and offered a useful tip. “We installed a Murphy bed which allows for flexible use of the room. It not only serves as
Homeowners with greater means may want to consider adding an elevator, a burgeoning design trend. These can be a big undertaking, and the most cost-efficient way to install one or allow for one in the future is as part of larger renovation.
For homeowners thinking about aging in place, for instance, Gleichman at Sheehan Nagle says a renovation can include vertically stacked hall closets where each floor is framed with a knock-out floor panel system to accommodate a future elevator. “Until you need that inevitable lift, you have ample storage,” he says. Gleichman says depending on the number of floors served and how sophisticated the system, installing an elevator can cost between $25,000 and $100,000.
Another reader added an elevator to the home he bought four years ago at a lower cost and without disrupting the interior space. “This is large enough for a wheelchair but we are using it for a dumbwaiter in the short term since we do not need wheelchairs. The elevator is totally outside…[and] is only $20,000 with no house modifications.” a place to recuperate after surgery, we (also) use it as a guest bedroom, exercise room, spa room for our hot tub and our wintering room for potted plants.”