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Aging in Your Own Space

Use these remodeling ideas now to live
independently later

Hips are so prone to fracture because people tend to fall on their sides, Genaze says. Add to that osteoporosis, which weakens the bone, and loss of muscle padding, and one slip or trip can lead you down a long road of surgery, pain, recovery and physical therapy.

How can you make sure your home is a safe abode? Consider these ideas.

Focus on the bathroom

The bathroom should be the first target for an aging-in-place remodel, says Dan Bawden, owner of Legal Eagle Contractors in Houston, who supervised Anthony's remodel. Having a first-floor full bathroom is "crucial," Bawden says. If you don't currently have one, it might seem like a large expense. But compared to installing an elevator or chair lift, it could be more economical. Plus, those solutions don't address the problem of expediency: if you need to get to a bathroom right away, a first-floor location will be the most convenient.

The doorway should be a minimum of 32 inches wide, says Bawden. In most older homes, it's a narrow 24 inches. "My mom and dad are in their late 80s, and he couldn't get his walker through the bathroom door without crabbing it to the side," Bawden says.

This wasn't just inconvenient, it was dangerous. If you're on a budget, there are special hinges you can buy that will gain you a few inches in access. But ideally you'll reframe the doorway and install a new door.

In the bathing area itself, Bawden recommends a curbless shower with a bench and grab bars. But that doesn't have to look as antiseptic as it sounds. Think in terms of Anthony's bathroom: a tiled shower area with recessed shelves at arm's level to stop you from having to stoop down to the floor or reach up to a shower rack. Add a matching ceramic bench and grab bars that come in brushed nickel, chrome or bronze to match your faucet hardware. If you're on a budget, there are teak shower benches that look more upscale than the white plastic hospital variety.

Perhaps most important, don't forget about the toilet. Getting up from a seated position might take some effort, so add a grab bar and consider a taller-than-average model.

In the kitchen, think convenience

If you're gearing up for a kitchen remodel, Richmond recommends you take a close look at your flooring. Tile is hard to stand on for long periods, especially in you have lower back or hip pain. Richmond recommends opting for vinyl, linoleum, wood or cork flooring, which are more forgiving. Also consider adding seated work spaces, so you can still chop your vegetables but take a load off while doing it.

When looking at new appliances, opt for a side-by-side refrigerator featuring double doors, which is easier to open if you're in a wheelchair. Instead of an over-the-oven microwave, which requires lifting heavy dishes above your head, consider a countertop or drawer model. To avoid having to bend over, a separate cooktop affixed to the counter and an oven inserted into the wall is a better option than a traditional stove, where the cooktop is above the oven door.

For countertops, Richmond designs a contrasting color around the edges so that if your vision starts to wane, you'll still be able to figure out where the countertop ends, thus preventing spills. Bawden installs lots of lighting under cabinets and outlets along the backsplash to limit having to reach down toward the floor to plug something in.

Throughout the house

You need not only brighter lights, but also many of them. Consider adding recessed lights to rooms that have only a single light source, such as a floor lamp. Or if you're on a budget, just increasing the wattage in current light fixtures can help.

If you're replacing flooring, consider installing hardwood. It's a lot easier to roll a wheelchair on wood than on carpeting. And think about your heating system, too. Susan Welliver, 59, and her husband never turned the heat on in the summer, even though the temperature where they live in Eureka, Calif., rarely gets warmer than 70 degrees. But when her parents relocated from Florida to live with them, the furnace was kicking on more frequently than usual. "We wanted them to be comfortable and as warm as they needed to be, so we installed a very efficient heating system."

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