Home Modifications for an Aging Person

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When you're planning long term care at home for a loved one, you should first complete a safety checklist, looking especially for the dangers of falls and burns. Often there are easy fixes and repairs to do, but you may still find problem areas still exist.

Some may be unsafe conditions, but others may be barriers that make it difficult for you or your relative to move about freely and to enjoy the comforts of home that make him want to stay put in the first place. This section covers modifications that can be made to an aging person's current home to allow him to continue his present living arrangement.

For more information on this topic, check out the AARP Guide to Revitalizing Your Home: Beautiful Living for the Second Half of Life by Rosemary Bakker.

Many houses and apartment buildings were constructed before universal design features were common or in some cases required by guidelines for remodeling and new construction under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990.

Ramps in public places, doors marked for wheelchair entrance, and buses with lifts and special seating for people with disabilities have become so common that they are scarcely noticed (unless of course you're the person with a disability who needs these accommodations). Yet the need for similar accommodations in private homes is less visible although equally important.

The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) puts home modifications into three categories:

  • Accessibility: Accessibility modifications allow a person in a wheelchair or with disabilities to move easily throughout a structure, such as with widened doorways, lowered countertops and sinks, grab bars in the tub or shower, and light switches and electrical outlets at waist height.

  • Adaptability: Adaptability covers changes that can be made more quickly, without having to completely redesign the home or use different materials for essential fixtures.

  • Universal design: These features are usually built into a home, including appliances, floor plans, and fixtures that are flexible, sturdy, reliable, and easy for all people to use.

These categories are important because they involve different levels of planning, implementation, and cost. For example, adapting a home is the least complicated type of modification. Grab bars and outdoor ramps are examples.

Making a home accessible, however, may involve structural changes and complying with building code and ADA requirements. Universal design may come into play when you are completely remodeling a home or building a new space.

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