Home Design for All Ages

With an entire generation of Baby Boomers about to retire, homebuilders are adding touches to their home designs to suit an aging population. Even healthy Boomers will welcome thoughtful modifications if they choose to care for their aging parents at home or have frequent visits from grandchildren. Here are a few simple things you may want to consider to help create a safe and comfortable home for everyone.

Planning for the Future

In the planning stage, you should make sure hallways and door openings are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Along those hallways, tap-activated glow lights provide better visibility and rocker-style light switches are easier to find and manipulate. Sliding doors provide easier access, whether in a bathroom or bedroom. If regular doors are used, use door levers instead of knobs for easier gripping and opening. If the home is split-level or two stories, easy-grip round handrails should accompany the stairs with rubber treads rather than carpeting to prevent tripping. In anticipation of a possible future disability, all stairs should be designed to accommodate an elevator seat. In the kitchen, make sure counter tops, cabinets and wall outlets are lower. Top shelves in most modern homes are only accessible with a stepstool, which raises the probability of accidents. Bottom kitchen cabinets should have shelves that slide out, easing access to those seldom-used appliances in the back. The counter tops should have a wide enough overhang for a wheelchair-bound person to comfortably fit knees under it.

NOT An Accident Waiting to Happen

Because most home accidents occur either in the kitchen or bath, both of these floors should have a nonskid covering. If you have visions of drab, institutional flooring, don’t worry — many attractive designs are now available. If you prefer carpeting, it should be made of a tight weave rather than shag. Faucets in both kitchen and bath should have levers instead of knobs. Throughout the house, wall outlets should be higher and light switches lower. Wiring should be strung along the top of a wainscot or desk-high trim to accommodate computers. Tangle-proof cord containers should be used on any computer within the home. These can be built into the walls to prevent tripping and to make cleaning easier.

Baths require a little more adaptation for senior adults’ safety. First, the tub should have two grab bars, one set vertically near the front for entering and exiting the tub, and one set horizontally against the back wall for support when turning and standing on one foot. In addition, it’s useful to have a small seat molded into the tub for use while soaping and rinsing. A spray nozzle with an extended hose makes rinsing easier. To prevent scalding, add a mixing valve that can be easily set at a comfortable temperature. Needless to say, some form of nonskid surface should line the inside of the tub, either a built-in textured surface or a rubberized mat.

Small Changes Equal Big Returns

Bathroom storage areas that require bending and stooping are less desirable than roomy, easy-to-reach shelves. A vertical cabinet with mixed-use shelves can replace under-the-sink storage.

Extra lights in all areas improve visibility for people whose eyes are not as acute as they once were. The newer compact fluorescent lights are a pleasant and cost-effective alternative to regular bulbs. While their purchase price is higher, they cost less to operate and last from five to seven years so they don’t have to be changed often. Less changing means fewer opportunities for accidents from ladder falls. These recommendations are common-sense modifications that can be useful to anyone, young or old. When you are ready to build, ask your builder if some of these suggestions are available in their house plans. You never know when you or a loved one may need them.