14 Small Home Projects That Can Help Seniors Age in Place
This is not a cheap choice. Home modifications necessary to accommodate seniors can add up to thousands of dollars. Many of these one-time expenses hit the budget hard, but if you know what to expect, they can be spread out as conditions dictate. And some are inexpensive DIY jobs that even a novice can undertake. The alternatives -- moving to a retirement community, independent living facility, or assisted living facility -- involve recurring expenses that may be costlier yet.
Walkers and wheelchairs are common mobility aids for seniors but don't fit comfortably through conventional interior doorways, which can be as narrow as 24 inches. On the first floor, at least, they should be widened to at least 32 inches and preferably 36 inches. Be prepared to pay several hundred dollars for each, and more if it's necessary to move electric wiring, switches, and outlets and replace the header (the beam over the door). Also, door sills should be removed or lowered so people with walkers can get over them easily.
Single-handle faucets that don't require a turning action to start and stop the water flow are a cheap upgrade. Such fixtures start under $50. Better yet are faucets that are controlled by a quick touch or wave of a hand and don't require grabbing or holding, although they're more expensive.
Handrails and safety bars around the toilet and shower/bath provide extra support and help prevent falls. And they don't have to make the bathroom look like hospital-issue accommodations. Until needed for their intended purpose, handrails and safety bars can double as towel racks and shelves. This is a good DIY project that doesn't cost much (prices start at about $12) but must be done correctly, with the bars screwed into wall studs so they can support up to 300 pounds.
Some experts recommend installing induction cooktops in kitchens used by seniors. Induction heat keeps the stovetop cool and minimizes the chances anyone will be burned. It also prevents boil-overs, because the electromagnetic field shuts off automatically after a pre-set time, or when the contents of a pot have evaporated. A cheaper alternative is a stove guard ($390) that shuts off the stove after a set time has elapsed if there's no activity in the area.
Retrofitting cabinets is a kitchen modification that helps seniors but is also considered an all-purpose upgrade. One easy project is removing lower cabinet shelves and installing pullouts that bring items in the back within reach. Individual slide-out shelves are not expensive ($75 to $150 at Costco, including hardware). The second part of the job calls for replacing cabinet door knobs with handles that are easier for arthritic fingers to hold.