Simple Changes Allow You to Stay Home as You Age

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By Rosie Romero Jr

Today’s real estate market is tough for homebuyers. From the soaring prices to low inventory, finding a home that fits your needs as you or a loved one age can be challenging and costly.

If you are having trouble looking for another house with aging-friendly amenities, consider staying put and adding them to your current home.


It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to make a few simple changes to your home that could allow you to live there longer. There are many low-cost ways to make your home, or your parents’ home, more comfortable and accessible, including these suggestions.

For starters, focus on these areas that can become the biggest barriers as you get a little older: the doorways and the bathroom. In addition, it’s wise to get rid of the steps approaching at least one of the home’s entrances.

Entryways
You could replace the steps with a small, natural ramp with some grading and landscaping. Pro tip: The ramp should be a foot in length for every inch of rise to the threshold. Otherwise, the slope will be too high and someone approaching in a wheelchair will stall halfway up. There are also portable ramps if you can’t add a permanent one. For stairs where a ramp isn’t feasible, add additional lighting to reduce the risk of falls.
Widen the front doorway to the home so it’s at least 36 inches, the width a wheelchair or walker needs to fit through without scraping the sides.

Doorways
The same goes for interior doors to bedrooms and bathrooms, which are typically only 30 inches wide. Can’t afford construction? Fit your door with a swing-out hinge that will add 2 to 3 inches to the width. The hinges can be found at hardware stores or online.

Bathrooms
Next, make your bathroom more comfortable to use now and in the future. If you’re having trouble getting up and down when using the toilet, add a steel toilet safety frame with arms to help you lift and lower yourself. You can find them at home improvement stores that sell medical aids.

If you don’t like the look of the safety frame, install a grab bar on the wall next to the toilet. You can find grab bars in stylish finishes and designer colors to match your bathroom’s décor.

For a more comfortable solution, though a bit pricier, swap your old 14-inch-tall toilet for a new “comfort-height” model with a seat that’s 17 to 19 inches from the ground, which is more like the height of a chair. Consider adding a washlet or bidet. A bidet is a standalone fixture that resembles a toilet. It uses water with a retractable or separate hand-held sprayer, faucet or direct spray from the bottom of the bowl. A washlet is a toilet seat with integrated bidet functions.

Grab bars in the bathroom were once associated with disabilities. That’s not the case anymore. People of all ages and abilities are buying and installing them. In addition to the grab bars next to your toilet, place one or two on the shower walls. They’ll help you hang on if you lose your balance. Your visitors will use them for the same reason.

Pro tip: Before installing grab bar(s), consider how you will use it. One that’s positioned horizontally will give you the best leverage as you get out of the bathtub or stand up from the toilet. Choose one that is 24 inches long. Place it 33 to 36 inches above the floor. If you’d like to add a bar on the same wall as the showerhead, it should be at least 12 inches long.

Keep in mind that an angled bar is handy if people of different heights share the bathroom.
The angled grab bar might be easier to install because wall studs are placed 16 inches apart. A 24-inch bar installed at a 45-degree angle will allow you to screw the bar into those studs easily. You need to anchor the grab bar to a wall stud or with a toggle bolt that has a guaranteed weight rating. Otherwise, it could pull right out from the wall and send you flying if you lean or pull on it. Plus, most building codes require that grab bars be secure enough to stay in place even under the pressure of a 250-pound load. That means you must screw the bars into wall studs. If the wall studs don’t match the length of the bar, then reinforce the wall with plywood, and screw it into that.

Many people use their showers far more than their bathtubs, especially if they no longer bathe children. Therefore, consider replacing your tub with a curbless shower. Have a bench and a hand-held spray installed at the same time, so that you can sit while you shower. If you’re still stepping over a curb to get into the shower, you could trip. And if you need to use a wheelchair down the road, rolling into the shower will be easier. Better to make those changes now when it’s not an urgent need.

Most people want to live independently, no matter what their age. Making a few future-minded improvements to your home now can help keep you comfortable and safe at home for years to come.

Rosie Romero, Jr. is co-owner of Arizona’s home improvement radio program “Rosie on the House.”

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