Growing old in your own home is attractive for many reasons. You are surrounded by familiar objects and furniture. You know exactly where the spice rack is in the kitchen. Finally, you know the neighborhood and have made friends who provide an opportunity for social connection.
However, few people buy a home with an eye for the distant future in which they are two or more decades older. Chances are, your home isn’t tailor-made for eldering. Articles online warn that you can expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars on retro-fitting your home for access and ease of navigation. From installing lifts to eliminating all raised entrances, changes can be dramatic and expensive. What can you do if you have no immediate need for that level of construction but still want to extend your enjoyment of your home?
Here is a short list of relatively simple and affordable changes to consider.
Re-assess the location of your master bedroom.
You may be accustomed to climbing the stairs when you are ready for bed, and that routine may work well for you right now. However, it’s wise to consider what would happen if you needed a space to recover from a surgery and couldn’t make a trek upstairs. Think about creating a private and comfortable space on the ground level. This can be done simply and inexpensively: you don’t have to convert an office or study to a bedroom, just add some furniture that would allow for the room to be used in more than one way.
Take a good look at your lighting.
Great lights can transform a place – but can they also make it safer? Add soft lighting for nighttime navigation: dimmer switches on modern “can” light fixtures or more traditional lamps are both good options. Remote control or motion sensor lights, as well as lights on a timer, can also minimize the risk of fall and injury.
Make your bathrooms easier to use.
Bathrooms can turn from a safe space into an accident-prone zone quickly. Wet shower floors are slippery, baths can be tough to get in and out of. Even if you aren’t ready to consider installing a no-step shower, now is the time to add a few strategically spaced grab bars and grips. Add heavy-duty non-slip mats to all wet areas and remove flimsy throw rugs that can be a trip hazard.
De-clutter and open your space.
Old homes are magnets for accumulating things. End tables bought at a yard sale, knick-knacks from travels, crafts from when the kids were little – these things can serve as reminders of happy times, but they can also clutter your space. All the extra furniture pieces, rugs, lamps, and baskets don’t just make your home difficult to dust and clean – they can also be an accident trigger. Walk through your home and look at the rooms with a critical eye. Is there any furniture you don’t use regularly? Does every object bring you a smile and a fond memory, or do they cause irritation as you go through your weekly dusting routine? Use this as an opportunity to make your home lighter and easier to maintain.
Re-assess your furniture
Beyond getting rid of the furniture you no longer use, consider how comfortable it is. Does it take you 10 minutes of gearing up and a lot of discomfort to get up from that couch? How practical is that formal dining room set that you use twice a year? Think about upgrading to comfortable armchairs that are easy to get in and out of. Smaller dining tables that can be expanded or locked together can give you more flexibility and more control of your space.
Remember the outside.
Are there any cracked sidewalks that invite guests to trip? How about tricky steps that are tough to see at dusk? Simple actions, like increasing the visibility of steps with some contrast tape or paint, can make your entryway safer. Make sure that the handgrips are conveniently placed and sturdy. Finally, keep the vegetation trimmed down and make sure the outside lights are in good repair, as that can discourage unwelcome attention from opportunistic burglars.
Future-proofing your home for your silver years
The good news is that much of the “seasoned” crowd has the benefit of making these changes to their homes gradually. That can allow you to budget for the repairs, schedule them at a convenient time, and get them done on your terms. While prioritizing the tweaks and projects, remember that your ultimate goals are to encourage safety and reduce the risk of falls and injury. Small changes made over time can allow you to maintain your independence and enjoy your home for years to come.