Update your home for safety and convenience
Rebecca Blocker, MS
Housing & Environmental Design Specialist
families experience temporary or permanent physical problems, from a sprained
ankle to natural aging, that make it difficult for loved ones to live safely and
conveniently in their home. There are easy and inexpensive ways you can update
and arrange your home to make life easier for all ages and abilities. Your
options increase when you discuss and plan for changing housing needs before a
Changing housing needs
Talking with your family about changing needs can be challenging. According to an AARP survey, over two-thirds of aging parents believed they would be able to stay in their home with only minimum assistance from family and friends. In reality, most homes are not designed to allow the elderly to successfully age in place. To plan for changing housing needs:
ˇ Ask questions and listen.
ˇ Observe which activities and chores are becoming difficult or unsafe to do.
ˇ Problem-solve together to identify one or two major problems on which to focus.
ˇ Remember to put safety first.
Universal design features
Universal design features and products help make your home safer and more convenient for everyone, even when needs and abilities change. Evaluate your home to see if it provides the basic features of universal design:
1. One no-step entrance with level landing
5-ft. x 5-ft. minimum
2. Spaces for eating, bathing and sleeping on an accessible level.
3. Wide doorways
36 in.; 32-in. minimum on accessible level
4. Wide halls and pathways
42 in.; 36-in. minimum on accessible level
5. Extra floor space
60-in. turning radius in the accessible bath and activity areas
It is less costly to include universal design features during building or remodeling, but they can be added to your existing home. An attractive, no-step entry, providing easy access for strollers or wheelchairs, can be made by carefully grading and landscaping instead of building a ramp. If larger-scale modifications are needed, an occupational therapist can help assess the situation and match abilities to their physical environment. Check local permits before any home modification project.
Simple solutions for safety
Inexpensive universal design products can prevent home accidents and are convenient for
everyone to use:
ˇ Handrails on both sides of stairs with light switches at top and bottom.
ˇ Lever door handles (easier for
a child or when hands are full).
ˇ Reinforced grab bars at tub, shower, and commode (new grab bars match any décor).
ˇ Single-control lever faucets (easier to use and adjust
ˇ Hand-held shower head on
ˇ Non-slip flooring (with no throw rugs).
A Home for All Ages: Convenient, comfortable and attractive.
HDSS-H-294. Iowa State University Extension, Ames, Iowa.
AARP. (May 2003). These four walls . . . Americans 45+ talk about home and community. A report
prepared by Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc.
For more information:
Universal design information is available from several sources
including: Iowa State University, www.extension.iastate.edu/housing/elderly/universal-design; The Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University, www.design.ncsu.edu:8120/cud; AARP, www.aarp.org; and University of Missouri Extension. www.extension.missouri.edu.