Aging safely at home requires thoughtful planning. Sometimes home modifications are necessary in order to support the person’s physical and/or cognitive limitations. Cost and the structure and layout of the house itself will impact the scope of work that can be done. Geriatric care managers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, architects, and other experienced professionals can provide guidance on what modifications are needed to increase the older adult’s safety and independence.

Decisions about home modifications are ideally made after a thorough assessment of the individual’s mobility, health, and injury risk. In particular, falls are among the most common and serious risks for older adults. Several low or no-cost ways to prevent falls at home including the following:

  • Ensure that lighting in the house is adequate, especially if the older person has vision problems
  • Remove throw rugs, extension cords, clutter, and other trip hazards
  • Arrange furniture so that the person can move freely about the house
  • Install night lights that provide illumination from the bedroom to the bathroom
  • Put everyday objects the older person uses within easy reach

 

The need for greater accessibility is often the reason for home modifications. If there are stairs to enter the home, railings on both sides increase safety. Wheelchair ramps or evenly-leveled entryways are needed for a person who uses a walker or wheelchair. Other safety features may include the installation of safety railings for exterior and interior stairs, and interior railings and grab bars.

Making the bathroom as safe as possible may require modifications such as a walk-in shower with a shower seat and handheld showerhead, or a walk-in bathtub, which can be pricey. Grab bars, non-skid bathmats and raised toilet seats are low-cost options that decrease fall risk.

AARP’s HomeFit Guide is an educational resource and toolkit that provides suggestions on home modifications and practical solutions. In addition, when hiring a professional to make home modifications, always be sure to do the following:

  • Check the contractor’s reviews and recommendations, and check for any complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau. (bbb.org)
  • Ask for several estimates from different contractors
  • Ask for proof that the contractor is licensed, bonded, and insured.
  • Agree on a payment schedule and do not pay the final bill until work is completed to your satisfaction
  • Get everything in writing