How to prepare your home for aging parents without sacrificing style.
Monday, December 14, 2020
In the first installment of our three-part series on adapting your home for aging relatives, we share suggestions for making the most of your existing space so that everyone stays happy and healthy.
The elderly population is expected to more than double to 80 million by 2050, and most of that growth is happening right now. While some of those people will age in place in their own homes, others may require extra care or rely on family to help reduce their housing expenses. In other words, your parents might move in with you.
Even if you’re looking forward to having your parents or an older relative join your household, you might still have questions and anxiety about the change. For example, how do you make your home accessible for someone with limited mobility or illness? And can you do that without making your house look like a hospital? In the first installment of our three-part series on adapting your home for aging relatives, we share suggestions for making the most of your existing space so that everyone stays happy and healthy.
Finding space for everyone when your parents move in
Before you even move your older relative into your own home, Houzz suggests making sure you have enough room to begin with. There are a number of ways to create the space to provide proper care, help them maintain some independence and enjoy privacy now and again.
Second master suite
The most modest and budget-friendly solution on this list is to upgrade a guest room with master suite features. Add a small sofa or seating area, a television, or a workspace for writing, crafting or puzzles. Think of the things you enjoy about your own master suite – a relaxing retreat with smart speakers, sound proofing from the rest of the house, luxurious bedding – and try to replicate that sense of comfort here. If possible, locate this space on the ground floor where steps won’t be a concern. Even if your parents are healthy now, you may be glad of this decision down the road.
In-law suite or studio
An in-law suite, if zoning regulations allow it, adds even more privacy for all parties, especially if it has a separate entrance. This might mean converting your basement or an attic space into something that feels like an apartment. If you renovate a space, consider adding a bathroom and kitchenette, even if it’s just a small bar sink and microwave.
Again, depending on your area’s zoning regulations, you might be able to build a tiny home or convert a shed into a stand-alone apartment for your relative.
Remember that you can also upgrade your own space when inviting your parents into your home. Being a caregiver is hard work. Create a master retreat for you and your spouse to enjoy some privacy, recharge and breathe. It’s hard to care for others if you don’t also practice self-care.
The same goes for other family members. Make sure kids have their own space, too. This isn’t just about privacy and granting alone time. As annoying as it is when you trip on your kids’ toys, think about the added risk if your mother with a walker has to navigate through the clutter.
Pets, either yours or your parents’, need to be accounted for, too. Will everyone’s pets get along? Does someone have allergies? Are you prepared to handle an increase in pet hair and messes? Do you have a safe space in the house to put cats and dogs in case they don’t thrive in the new household or get underfoot?
Ways to update a bedroom for aging parents
Even an active older adult will likely spend a lot of time in their bedroom, relaxing from a busy day or retreating for a bit of privacy. Those who require more rest or are bedridden will appreciate comfortable accommodations even more.
Whether you provide a lamp on a nightstand or move a light switch so it’s right by the bed, being able to illuminate the room before your loved one tries to walk around will help reduce the risk of falls. It’s also not uncommon for older adults to become disoriented in the dark, something that might be a greater concern when they first move in and are unfamiliar with the layout. A final feature to keep in mind is that some of those small turning switches on lamps might be difficult for arthritic hands. Look for switches that are buttons or that can be connected to smart controls instead. In terms of style, you’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to choosing a lamp for the space. Consider a DIY lampshade to make it unique.
For much the same reason that you want lamps or switches near the bed – to reduce potential falls – you want to light the path from the bedroom to the bathroom. No one likes being blinded by sudden, harsh light at night. A nightlight, whether it’s a simple plug-in or a lightstrip like this one from Phillips Hue lining the hallway, can help them move about more safely and independently.
If you have 20/20 vision, you probably don’t think twice when looking for a particular shirt in the closet. Those with visual impairments might need more light to see what’s there. Simple stick-on, battery-powered puck lights under a shelf or this Lithonia motion sensor LED light are good solutions.
Your converted guest room might have a chest at the end of the bed, throw rugs to protect the carpet, large potted plants to spruce up a corner and any other number of accessories and décor. While they might look great, if it impedes movement, you’ll want to rehome them. Even if you are able to move about freely, walkers or wheelchairs that need extra clearance might find it a tight fit. Focus on a few statement pieces that won’t impede movement. Or better yet, let your loved one help decorate to their taste and needs.
A chair and small table can go a long way toward giving your aging relative the feel that they’re living independently in an apartment. It’s also functional in that it can be the perfect place for them to sit while they dress or put on shoes. Like lamps, a chair can be nearly any style. Just try to avoid those with wheels. The chair should also ideally have a back and sturdy arms so your family member can push themselves up easily.
Accessible drawer pulls
Here’s another one for those who have trouble with hand grip or dexterity. Replace the drawer pulls on cabinets and dressers with a lever, handle or something with a U-shaped design. You can match them to other fixtures in the room to keep it looking sharp, while your loved one will appreciate being able to access drawers without a daily struggle.
Consider your family member’s needs when choosing storage solutions. If reaching overhead is difficult, either because of balance or arm strength, they might like some attractive under-the-bed bins better. If bending and stooping is a concern, a bookcase with pretty baskets at waist level works, too.
How to update your bathroom for safety
Between humidity and smooth surfaces, bathrooms require a bit of extra attention. Some solutions are quick fixes while others require a bit more time and money. You might decide they’re worth the effort, though, depending on your family’s needs.
No-threshold shower or tub
Stepping up and over into a deep, wet bathtub can leave you feeling unsteady. Consider adding a curbless shower or walk-in tub to reduce the risk of falls.
These don’t need to be duck-shaped kiddy stick-ons or ugly black stripes. Look for textures or treads that blend with the color of your tub. Or go the opposite direction and choose a teak or bamboo mat that stands out in all the right ways.
So simple, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it immediately.
Standing and sitting will be much easier and safer with a raised or high-profile toilet. Plus, you probably won’t even see a difference just by looking at it.
There are two key places for bathroom seating – the shower and the vanity – that will help loved ones keep their balance and take breaks when they need to. If you’re worried about one of those plastic benches looking ugly in the shower, consider a non-slip built-in seat or a classic teak stool.
How to remodel your kitchen for convenience
In our opinion, giving your relative the opportunity to cook or simply make their own morning coffee is a huge step toward helping them feel independent. Even for the most spry and healthy, however, this room comes with hazards. These are just a few remodeling ideas, but The Lifetime Home from USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, has even more.
Bending over, stooping and reaching to the back of a cabinet can be tough, especially when balance is an issue. Install pull-out shelving so they don’t have to reach so much. You could also convert the cabinets to drawers.
Lifting groceries onto a high counter can be difficult as we get older. Being able to prepare dinner from a wheelchair is next to impossible at standard countertop height. Also, some of us do get shorter or more stooped with age. While you might appreciate higher counters, they might enjoy one at a lower height. Consider two-tiered countertops so people at any height can cook comfortably, or a kitchen island that raises and lowers with the push of a button.
Countertops with rounded corners
We always protect toddlers from sharp corners, but rounded corners can be a blessing for seniors, too.
Look for ovens with side-swinging doors, which reduce the need for the chef to bend and reach. Induction ranges are also safer for everyone since there are no open flames. Think about the height of your appliances, as well. Over-the-range microwaves will be next to impossible to reach if your loved one is in a wheelchair, so look for a countertop or microwave drawer instead. Dishwashers can be raised to reduce bending or to accommodate the toe kick on a wheelchair. And refrigerators with a bottom freezer drawer are more accessible, too.
Organize with them in mind
We love Dutch ovens for making soup, but that cast iron has some heft. Place heavy or frequently used items within easy reach. If they’re the only ones in the house who enjoy a certain food, you might also give them their own snack basket in a convenient spot in the pantry to make it easy to find.
Looking for more? Check out the rest of our series on adapting your home for aging relatives without losing your sense of personal style. In part two, we talk about updating flooring, lighting and décor to make your multigenerational home more accessible and comfortable. And in part three, you’ll find ideas for making your outdoor space and home security more elderly-friendly.