Many people want to remain in their current home after retirement, but your housing needs could change as you age. Your home might require modifications to allow you to safely age in your home. Here are some changes you might make to your home ahead of retirement to prepare for mobility or aging-related issues.
Consider these home modifications for seniors:
- Improve lighting.
- Add more electric outlets.
- Check detectors.
- Add railings and grab bars.
- Upgrade your bathroom.
- Address tripping hazards.
- Minimize clutter.
- Hire help.
- Plan for mobility.
Making these tweaks and modifications to your home can mitigate or eliminate problems before they crop up.
Adding additional lights, such as overhead and task lights, throughout your home can help you maneuver around comfortably and safely. Prices can vary dramatically for light fixtures depending on style, brand and finishings, so focusing on frequently used rooms for new purchases should be prioritized.
Consider stocking up on LED bulbs, which last longer than traditional styles. Energy-efficient light bulbs can help you avoid frequent light bulb changes while also saving money on your utility bills. While the upfront cost may be higher than an incandescent bulb, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the average household saves around $225 in annual energy costs by using LED lighting.
Add More Electric Outlets
Older houses often don’t have enough electrical outlets for the power demands of a modern home. Hiring an electrician to rewire your electricity and add electrical outlets can help you avoid developing a spider web-like array of extension cords that can become a serious tripping and fire hazard. An electrician also might add switches in more convenient places, like by your bedside. If rewiring isn’t possible, taping the cords to the floor or wall can help minimize the tripping hazard. If you don’t always carry a cellphone in your pocket, make sure that your telephones are in convenient locations and in good working order.
Update or install smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and other environmental monitoring devices. Ask a family member to help you check the devices every few months to ensure they’re in proper working order.
Add Railings and Grab Bars
Consider purchasing and installing railings on both sides of your staircases for more leverage than you would get with just one railing. Replace railings that are eroding or otherwise past the point or repair. Make sure that existing railings and banisters are fastened tightly to the wall or floor.
Throughout your home, consider where affixing a grab bar to the wall might improve your mobility. Prime locations might include next to your kitchen chair, by a bench in the backyard or near other seats and chairs. A well-placed railing, banister or grab bar can help to prevent serious falls.
Upgrade Your Bathroom
A non-slip bath mat is crucial in the bathroom to prevent slips and falls. Grab bars or railings might be installed along the shower wall and next to toilets. A seat or bench for your shower or bathtub allows you to relax and minimizes opportunities to slip while bathing. Raised toilet seats can also be helpful to decrease height issues, specifically the distance between your standing and seated positions.
Consider renovating your shower or bathtub to reduce the height you have to overcome to enter. “Those showers that are also tubs that you have to take a step into can lead to falls and slipping,” says Ryan Majchrzak, a certified senior advisor in Bel Air, Maryland. “Getting yourself something where the top edge is almost even with the floor can be helpful.”
Address Tripping Hazards
Throw rugs or carpets that aren’t properly taped down or secured can lead to falls and serious injuries among retirees. For a retired person, “one of the biggest risks is a fall, and there are so many things that can lead to someone falling,” Majchrzak says. “Injury from a fall is what typically leads to some sort of additional care.” Make sure that all rugs are properly secured and are unlikely to slip. Other potential tripping hazards to avoid include flimsy pieces of decorative furniture, floor decorations like vases, statues or ceramic pieces and piles of books or papers.
Unmitigated clutter can become a tripping or fire hazard. Aim to begin decluttering your home long before you retire. Consider whether an object will have a conceivable use in the future. For items worth keeping, properly organize everything in a way that will allow you to easily access necessary items without having to climb on a chair or dig into the back of cupboards and closets. Take care to properly dispose of what you don’t want. Ask community members whether they could make use of certain items or help you sell, donate, recycle or trash what is left. Stairs, doorways, windows and anything near fire, heat or electrical sockets should be prioritized for decluttering.
Budget for the type of at-home hired help you might need in retirement. Although you may be quite handy, you may not have the desire or ability to complete home maintenance projects yourself in the future. Tackle as many tasks as you can while you have the interest and capacity to do so, but also identify a few different trusted maintenance workers in your area who can handle various types of tasks. Make your budget with an assumption that you may need to call them a few times a year for different needs and that their rates will likely increase as the years go by. It’s critical to get home maintenance tasks done quickly to avoid a pile of “unmet needs” in your home later when you are less able to address them, says Elena Fazio, a health scientist administrator in the National Institute on Aging’s behavioral and social research division in Bethesda, Maryland.
Plan for Mobility
Consider how you will run errands, socialize and get out of the house, and what you will need to make that happen. Clear pathways into and out of the house are needed for comfortable mobility. Think about how you will navigate your home’s entrances and whether any modifications, like ramps or safer stairways, might be needed to safely exit.
Also, look into ways to socialize from home. As one ages and has a more difficult time with mobility, “there is an absolutely real concern about social isolation,” Fazio says. Hosting gatherings and game nights could encourage friends and relatives to come to you. If you plan to socialize with people who don’t live close by, look to dedicate a comfortable, well-lit space that can serve as your video call corner for digital socialization. Understanding how you want to continue socializing will dictate what modifications you need to make.