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Whether it is a new home or a home that has been in the family for generations, houses are not generally built with seniors in mind. Converting your home to be safe for seniors is essential if you plan for your loved one to live there for a long time.

As we age, mobility and the ability to perform certain everyday tasks decrease. Modifying your home to be senior-safe can be as simple as changing a doorknob or as complicated as a complete renovation, depending on the home’s condition and individual safety needs. Not only does converting your house into a senior-friendly home make it safe for senior loved one, but it can make things a lot easier for their caretakers. Check out some ideas for senior-friendly projects in your home, as well as some ways to potentially pay for large-scale renovations.

Modify the Entryway

Making your house senior-friendly starts, like any home visit, at the front door. Assess the condition of the porch, door and entryway. Put yourself in your senior loved one’s shoes: is the walkway to the front door cracked, uneven or worn down? Is the entryway too narrow or on a downward slope? Are there handrails, and if so, are they sturdy?

Entering and exiting the home is something most people do every day but hardly something anyone consciously thinks about. As silly as it may seem, slowly go through the process of exiting and entering the home, making mental notes along the way. If your senior loved one has trouble with mobility, stairs may become an issue. Beyond handrails, a ramp or even a stair lift may be the solution. Your senior loved one should not stress about entering or exiting their home.

Secure the Kitchen

One of the most dangerous places in the house for a senior is the kitchen. Seniors can become less dexterous and therefore need appliances that are easier to use, such as those that feature buttons instead of knobs.  Additionally, items in cabinets should be easy to access. Minimize the use of higher cabinets — everything should be easy to reach without using a stepstool. You could use remove cabinet doors entirely to create open cabinet space, making it much easier for seniors to see the items they may need rather than having to remember what is in each cabinet.

You can also get a little technical, setting your water heater to not exceed 120 degrees on faucets as a way to prevent burns, or install pedals to control the faucet to make it easier for seniors with grip and reach issues. Some stoves also have features that allow you to set a timer to turn off, minimizing the risk of fire if a senior forgets to turn the stove off.

Fall Prevention in the Bathroom

When converting your house into a senior-friendly home, there are several important things to do in the bathroom — it is, after all, one of the biggest problem areas for seniors. I First, make sure that the bathroom becomes a slip-free zone: add non-skid bathmats and non-skid floor strips, or use non-skid rug tape. Install railing throughout the bathroom to make it easier to walk around; these handles can potentially be used to catch themselves if they do end up slipping.

The bath and/or shower may need the most work. A handheld showerhead can be used to better direct the water towards them without having to reach up high. Install a waterproof folding seat or bench to allow for easier showering, especially if the senior is unsteady on his or her feet. All railings and seats in the bathroom should be able to hold up to 300 pounds of downward pressure.

Installing a walk-in tub with a door is even better, allowing your senior loved one to simply walk into the shower without climbing over anything. It may be the most expensive renovation in the bathroom, but it does prevent accidents.

Make It Smart and Techy

Smart homes are not just for young Silicon Valley tech geeks — seniors can enjoy the benefits of a techy home as well. Almost anything that runs on power can be automated, but the easiest place to begin is the lighting. Install light sensors — which can be found in any home improvement store — in hallways, the bathroom and outside the home. For rooms that do need the lights turned off, install a clapper or rocker switches.

Smart thermostats such as the Nest system can sense when someone is home and adjust the temperature accordingly. The user-friendly interface displays large numbers, and it is easy to control. Smart thermostats not only take the hassle out of temperature control, they can actually lower your energy bill. A new security system can make a home safe from intruders, but many now have features that allow the residents of the home to alert emergency services by the push of a button. 

Covering the Costs

The cost of a senior-friendly renovation varies. First, assess the needs based on your senior loved one’s condition. Nobody ages exactly the same, so the renovations that are needed may not follow all the guidelines. An occupational therapist can help you asses what changes you may need to make in your home, but start soon — plan for your senior’s aging needs in advance.

Most of the renovations may have to come out of your own pocket, but there are ways to offset the cost. Medicare does not pay for any home renovations and very little when it comes to in-home care. If your loved one qualifies, Medicare Part B may be able to pay for an occupational therapist to assess your home — if your loved one qualifies. Medicaid, however, may be able to help. Many states, including California, offer Home Community Based Services Waivers. These waivers are intended to replace the costs of outside senior care for low-income seniors and divert them towards their residence.

Veterans may also qualify for assistance when it comes to modifying their home through the Department of Veterans Affairs. There are also many independent organizations and nonprofits that help seniors, such as Heroes at Homes Program or Rebuilding Together, which has many local offices in California.

Creating a safe environment for your senior loved one is a priority. Make sure to do your due diligence and research in order to provide the best potential care and to make sure that living at home, as opposed to outside assisted living, is right for your senior.

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