Stay put: How to 'age in place'

If you'd rather stay in your own home as you get older, you're not alone.

More than 90 percent of older Americans would prefer to age in their own homes than move to senior housing, according to the National Aging in Place Council. Called "aging in place," staying in your home while getting older could mean you'll have to change the house to be safe in it.


Here's a room-by-room look at what you might do to make your home match your needs as you age.

The entrance


If people have difficulty walking, steps can be a big problem — even if it's just a few, said Judy Rau, office manager of Curtis E. Schneck Inc. of Schnecksville, which is building some universal design homes that have no-step entrances.

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If your home has steps at all its entrances, you might have a ramp built. "Sometimes you can re-grade a sidewalk, slope it until it meets the door," said Jill Kearney of Senior Moves by Design in South Whitehall Township.

You also may need to widen the entrance so you have space to maneuver a wheelchair or walker once inside, Kearney said. Another option: create a totally new entry — perhaps where you now have a first-floor window?

The steps

Steps inside the home may be a problem as well, Rau said. If steps are a problem, one option is to retrofit the home so that you can live on the first floor.

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If that's your preference and your home is older, you may need to be creative, said Patricia Nunan of Lifestyle Design in Perkiomenville, a certified kitchen and bath designer who specializes in working with the elderly. Moving to the first floor could require turning a powder room into a full-bath or converting the unused dining room into a master bedroom.

No bathroom on the first floor? Stair lifts may be the answer for some.

"A stair lift is a fraction of what it would cost to put a bathroom in, and you still have use of your entire house," said Bob Pretopapa of Power Stair Lifts in Palmer Township. Most homes, even those with narrow staircases, can accommodate a stair lift.

"It is definitely a practical solution to get you up and down stairs, and it could be done for under $3,000," he said. A split level home might require two stair lifts, which would cost more, he noted. Also, some stair lifts need to be customized, which, while possible, is more expensive.

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Elevators are an option, too, although they will cost considerably more money and "you have to have enough space to install them," Kearney said.

The bathroom

The biggest issue in the bathroom is often the bathtub, Kearney said. "Stepping over the tub can be a serious problem."

You can remove the tub and replace it with a walk-in tub or a stall shower "so you could roll a wheelchair in if you needed to," she said. Benches — so you can sit once you're in the shower — may be needed as well. For added safety, think about installing hand-held shower heads and slip-resistant textured floors as well.

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Stay put: How to 'age in place'

If your sinks, tubs or showers have twist handles, replace them with lever handles, Nunan said. Levers are easier to turn, especially when you're limited by arthritis or hand strength.

Grab bars are often a big help in the bathroom, too, said Bruce Montgomery of Grab Bar Pros in Bethlehem. Falls are the leading cause of injury in the elderly, according to the National Council on Aging.

"And the most frequent place to fall is the bathroom," Montgomery said. Grab bars can be installed in the shower/tub and around the toilet to help prevent falls. For safety, grab bars should be properly installed into the wall studs and not held with suction cups.

A toilet-seat riser is another option for people who have difficulty lowering themselves to the toilet, Kearney said. In the future, there may be toilet seats that raise and lower just like your recliners.

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The kitchen

The stove is the danger spot in the kitchen, Kearney said. "You want to have the controls for the stove in the front rather than the back so you don't have to reach over the fire."

An electric or smooth cook top would make it possible to slide pots and pans on and off if you can't lift them, Nunan said.

Smart appliances that you can control from your phone or tablet can make life easier, especially if you can use voice commands. Some people find they can reach items in their freezer better if the freezer is on the bottom rather than the top, Nunan said.

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A lot of kitchens, especially in older homes, are small or U-shaped, Nunan said. "Sometimes taking out an island will give you more room." You don't necessarily need room to turn a wheelchair around, "but you do need enough area to be able to come in and out."

Think about lever-style handles for the kitchen sink like you do for bathroom sinks, Nunan said. Touchless faucets are another possibility.

Replace knobs with handles to make cabinets and drawers easier to open. You will be able to reach items in cabinets easier if they have pullout drawers, Kearney said.

The bedrooms, living rooms and hallways

Installing a ballerina bar in the hallway so you have something to hold onto as you walk can help if balance is an issue, Nunan said.

Replace carpeting with hardwood or tile floors. If you want carpet, make sure it's low-pile with firm padding, the experts said. Remove throw rugs; they can be tripping hazards, Kearney said.

De-clutter and keep pathways as open as you can, Nunan said.

Make sure the room is well-lit. You may need to install additional outlets to get more lighting. Lights that turn on automatically as you approach can be a safety feature.

Remove furniture so you have more space to maneuver, Kearney said.

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You also may want to bring your laundry up from the basement and install the washer and dryer on the first floor, the experts said.

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