With loved ones living longer and needing more care, many families struggle with the best way to help an aging relative.
More than three-quarters of U.S. adults age 50 and older want to stay in their current homes for as long as possible, according to AARP’s 2021 “Home and Community Preferences Survey.” But a May 2020 study by the U.S. Census Bureau found that less than 10 percent of U.S. homes are "aging-ready," meaning they have a step-free entryway, a first-floor bathroom and bedroom, and at least one bathroom accessibility feature, such as a grab bar or shower seat.
Adapting your home to accommodate another’s needs is a step some are hesitant to make. But if you’re contemplating this move, consider advice from the experts who say the trend is likely to continue as the nation’s population ages.
“We’re hearing more from the caregivers that are modifying their home so their older relative can move in with them,” says Sandy Markwood, chief executive of USAging, a national association of local Area Agencies on Aging.
Local agencies can provide in-home safety assessments, Markwood says. But she acknowledges the accommodations are often not easy.
Step 1: Low-cost safety tips
Many people find that they can make these changes themselves.
• Add textured, no-slip strips in the bathtub and shower.
• Apply nonslip wax on floors.
• Place a waterproof seat or chair in the shower.
• Put nonskid treads on steps.
• Remove throw rugs.
• Remove wheels on chairs.
• Replace standard doorknobs with lever handles.
• Replace toilet with a raised or high-profile toilet.
• Use rubber-backed bathmats.
Step 2: Expensive changes
These modifications often require professional help to make a home more accessible for a wheelchair.
• Alter the shower for walk-in rather than step-over entry.
• Create zero-threshold entryways.
• Move light switches for easy reach from a wheelchair or bed.
• Widen doorways and hallways.
“The first thing people think of is, This is going to look like a hospital, and I don’t want my house to look bad,” she says. “There are things you can do that blend in with that decor and make house a home.”
Simple steps to prevent falls
Falls are a major health hazard for older Americans, causing millions of injuries and 32,000 deaths a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some simple, inexpensive adjustments can go a long way toward reducing risk, says Bryan Oden, a longtime physical therapist and the cofounder of BubbleCare, a Texas-based company that helps families find caregiver assistance.
For example, Oden says that when he would do home safety evaluations for his company, about half the homes he visited had a pet. To prevent tripping, he recommends having a secure area for the pet as the older resident moves around.
“It’s a huge fall risk,” he says. “At no point in time have I ever said, ‘You need to get rid of your animal.’ But at the same time, you need to keep them away.”
Another area of concern is a change in floor surfaces from tile to wood or carpet, which creates potential dangers at doorways.