These Accessibility Projects Help Older Folks Age in Place

lever doorknob on a wooden door

Are you looking forward to the day when retirement means relaxing, traveling, and playing with grandkids? Us, too. But we know we all have our limits, and eventually, we'll get to the point where it's time to slow down.

If you have the option of moving in with the kids, more power to you. But if you can't stomach the thought of relinquishing your independence just yet, these little fixes can keep you in your home safely and securely.

Add a Ramp

indoor wheelchair ramp with chair

Stairs are great for kids and Slinkies. Not so much for those of us with limited mobility. If you've got steps that lead up to the front door, install a ramp with handrails to increase accessibility to your home. And if the skateboarding grandkids decide to use it for practice, perhaps they need a little direction to the nearest skate park.

Change the Door Knobs

Aging hands don't have the grip strength they once had, so a simple switch to lever-handled knobs should be first on your list of to-dos (you know, after installing the ramp.) They're inexpensive and an easy project you can finish in a matter of hours. There are lots of doors though, so while you're at the hardware store, pick up a set for the front and back door, bathroom and bedroom doors, and the closet doors, too.

Fix the Faucets

Fixtures with twist knobs aren't arthritis-friendly, so like the door knobs, these should be replaced with a single-handled fixture. Even better options are the touch or touchless faucets that operate with a simple tap or by waving your hand in front of a sensor. Both are easier on aging hands, but may not be the best option for people with curious cats.

Touchless faucets also need access to a source of power like from a battery or by connection to a power socket. These fixtures may require a little more maintenance, and the installation a little more complex, but it makes it easier on those achy hands. Just sayin'.

Grab Some Grab Bars

hand holding grab bar in bathroom

Common places where grab bars are installed are the shower or bath, and near the toilet, but that doesn't mean those are the only places they can be used. Install them in other parts of the house where additional support is needed, like along a stairwell or in the seating area beside a favorite chair.

Parts are inexpensive, which belies their importance. But when it comes to safety for seniors in their homes, installation is critical to ensure they're fixed appropriately to wall studs for strength that allows them to hold up to 300 pounds.

Widen the Doors

Some doorways in the home can be as narrow as 24 inches, which can't be easy to navigate for those using walkers or wheelchairs. Widen that space to 32 inches, but 36 inches is even better. The chances of falling increase substantially as we age, so reduce your chances by removing the lower sill of the doorway to make it easier for walkers and shuffling feet to go through.

You may find it'll be necessary to move wiring or outlets surrounding the doorway. Although it's an added effort, it's one that will repay you in better accessibility in your own home during the golden years.

hallway with three wide doors

Improve the Lighting

Eyesight often deteriorates as we age. To increase safety and visibility, install good lighting in all areas of the home. Hallways and stairwells should always have a light source. If you don't have enough overhead lighting for a room, bring in additional floor lamps and change bulbs to brighter LEDs. Add under cabinet lighting in the kitchen.

And while you're working with the lighting, you might consider replacing the toggle switches to dimmer switches. These switches help save energy and extend the life of your bulbs, hence fewer times you'll have to change the lightbulbs.

Remove the Area Rugs

We can't help but be a little sad about not having those cozy area rugs lying around, but even though non-slip pads underneath will keep them from moving around, they can still create a tripping hazard. Find another home for them and place non-slip strips in areas that get wet like the bathroom.

Install Barrier-Free Bathing

walk in bathtub with hole in side

A bathtub invites an opportunity to slip and fall, regardless of age. But since a fall can be much more detrimental for an older person, we'd like to suggest walk-in showers and walk-in tubs for your bathroom spaces. They are much easier to access, but that convenience comes at a hefty cost.

Kits can run from $1500 to $5000 or more, not including installation, so do your due diligence when choosing one. And though you might be tempted to opt for the pretty glass enclosures, they can be difficult to keep clean, especially for someone with limited mobility. Instead, choose a curtained option or a stand-alone walk-in.

Whether you're planning for yourself or helping the 'rents stay independent, these essential fixes will help keep you safe as you age in place.