Future-Proofing Your Home: Preparing to Age in Place
If you’re one of the many people planning to stay in their home well into their golden years, doing some preliminary research, planning and renovations in your younger years for future proofing before retirement makes sense and is essential. Doing so will help ensure your house remains accessible and safe even as you advance in years.
However, you shouldn’t wait too long until you future proof your home. If you renovate your home too late, you might already be having mobility issues and experiencing lack of energy before your living arrangements become senior-ready.
In planning your age-proof home, you should also watch out for some potentially unnecessary and costly pre-emptive renovations, such as installing ramps to accommodate a wheelchair or introducing mobility aids. Remember everyone’s situation is different and you might not need a wheelchair after all.
There are certain universal design changes that are low maintenance that you can make to future proof your home to support your goal of ageing safely and comfortably in place in your forever home.
If you’re planning on aging in place or to age-proof your forever home, this guide, carefully put together by our caring hands, on future proofing your home is for you. You can use this future proofing guide as a handy reference for what renovations and design features are worth investing in so your future self will thank you.
The Benefits of Ageing in Place
Research shows that many older people — even among those who face physical challenges early on — find ageing in place gives them that sense of independence they value so much in their old age. Besides, living in a familiar place means a feeling of comfort, support and overall better wellbeing that even the best senior living facilities can never really match.
These benefits contribute to a person’s happiness, health and overall energy — which is probably why those who are free to age in place also experience better health outcomes and save on health care and health insurance costs during their twilight years.
Now, let’s dive deeper into all the reasons why living at home can make all the difference and is crucial to seniors’ quality of life.
- It helps seniors maintain a certain level of independence. Growing old usually comes with age-related physical and cognitive decline, requiring personal care. These biological changes can make daily life difficult for the elderly, so they need personal care and home care assistance from others to perform daily tasks and general home maintenance. However, it is possible for older people to maintain a certain level of independence when they are allowed to control their routine, daily activities and important life decisions. For example, if an older person enjoys gardening, they can still work in the garden they love or engage in hobbies that don’t pose safety or health risks or require an overexertion of energy. They can also go to the supermarket for grocery shopping or take a walk around their community whenever they want to. They may also have family nearby, which they can visit whenever they want and have as a safety net in case of emergencies. These are very small things that count a lot, as older Australians living in senior living facilities or nursing homes aren’t allowed to make such decisions for themselves. Ageing in place not only maintains seniors’ independence but also boosts their sense of dignity and connection to their local community.
- Living in a familiar setting close to your local community and engaging in their usual daily routines while growing older give the elderly a feeling of comfort, security and confidence. Home really is where the heart is and it’s true homes reflect their owners. The elderly usually consider their home the safest and most comfortable place to be, especially since they thrive on routine and being around familiar places, friends, family and their local community. Just like everyone else, older people value having a home of their own — not just a space assigned to them in an aged care facility or a retirement village. Aging in place refers to having an age friendly space where they have the freedom in their lives to move about as much as they want and whenever they want during the various stages of aging.
- With the right home care support services and aged care resources, elderly people who age in place in their own houses can enjoy better health and energy levels. Aside from enjoying a certain level of independence that boosts their self-esteem, seniors who live at home have a lower risk of contracting infections and illnesses that happen in senior living facilities, nursing homes and retirement villages. Moreover, homesick seniors have an increased risk of experiencing stress and depression during their lives, which can also hasten the physical and cognitive effects of ageing and create additional problems.
- While it is not free, it is cheaper to continue living in your current home than in a facility. Aged care homes and similar aged care facilities that support older people aren’t free and come at a cost. In Australia, where some aged care facilities and health care services are funded by the Australian Government, seniors can benefit from the subsidy should they wish to. However, the kind of attention, services and accommodation they’ll have depends on an assessment of their care needs by the nursing home and how much they can afford to contribute to the home care services and living facilities.
How to Future-Proof Your Home
When you plan for ageing in place or plan to future proof your home environment for your later years, these are some of the most important considerations:
Plan for Essential Renovations For Future Proofing and Independent Living
You can make your own home and living environment conducive to ageing in place through these low maintenance home modifications and practical changes:
- Walk-in shower for the bathroom: Getting into a bathtub could get difficult with age. With a walk-in shower, there’s no need to exert so much effort. You could also get a shower seat or built-in bench installed for your convenience and comfort. Add non-slip shower mats or non-slip tile coating for protection from slips and falls. If you have a glass shower door, put stickers or decals to make it easier for people with poor eyesight to see it. An adjustable showerhead is also a great way to make showering easier for the elderly.
- Grab bars: To reduce the risk of falling, aim to install grab bars in strategic places, walls and rooms like your main shower, kitchen and front door. If you are able to, install handrails along the full length of the hallway wall.
- Door lever handles: Arthritis is one of the most common health issues of older adults. You can minimise the impact of a round doorknob on your wrists and reduce pain when opening a door by replacing all doorknobs with door lever handles.
- Ground-floor bedroom and bath: Climbing and descending stairs as you age will not only become more difficult, but also risky. By keeping the master bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor, accessing both becomes easier and safer, especially for those night time trips.
- More open space: If you have the means to do it, a great idea is to break down walls or stud walls dividing space in old houses to create a more open-plan look. Doing so will not only open up the living space so it looks larger but also eliminate the need for maneuvering doors.
- Carpeting and rugs: Depending on the material of your flooring, it could get too slippery for safety as you age. If you have hardwood, laminate or tile flooring, you can install low-pile carpeting and rugs to most spaces (except the kitchen and bathroom) for cushioning and to aid movement. Keeping carpets and rugs low pile ensures you can use mobility aids like a walker, walking frame or wheelchair safely in these areas. Low-pile rugs and carpets are also durable and tend to trap less dirt and allergens.
- Pull-out drawers: For senior adults, it’s not just reaching for top shelves that becomes an issue; bending to access items from lower shelves can also get difficult. Pull-out drawers make it easier to access the dishes, tools and cookware you need.
Check Fall Hazards In Your Own Home
Conduct a walk-through of every room in your home including the bedroom and bathroom to identify any trip or fall hazards. After your survey, you can take measures to eliminate or reduce such hazards in each room and work on removing obstacles in the home. This means:
- Checking for any obstacles in the hallways leading to and from certain sections of your house, to ensure the area is clear and provides good access to rooms in the house.
- Getting rid of clutter, including rugs, extension cords, wiring and electricity cables, toys, magazines or books and other items on the floor that could become potential hazards.
- Adding non-slip mats to the bottom of all rugs to reduce possible trips and falls.
- Covering corners and sharp edges (e.g. coffee tables, modern beds) using special padding to prevent bumps or cuts from contact with these.
- Moving items in the kitchen cabinets to lower shelves. This way, there would be no need to reach up or climb to get them and reduces the risk of dropping items. You could also purchase a reacher grabber or a pick up and reaching tool for a small cost. This is designed to support older Australians to reach objects on high shelves or dropped items, including ones hidden behind furniture or hard-to-access places.
- Adding ramps or a stairlift at a later stage of your life (when you know it’s necessary) can make going up or down your home safer and easier. Also, ensure all railings are secured safely.
- Ensuring your house has good lighting and accessible light switches will allow people with bad eyesight to easily identify possible trip hazards quickly in their forever home.
Protect Yourself Against Fire Accidents
As you grow older, there may be instances when you forget something, like a stove you turned on, heating appliances left running, an iron you plugged in or food you’re cooking.
You can help prevent these oversights by posting reminders in every room in bold, readable letters. These can include never leaving any electrical appliance or electronic device plugged in when it is not in use or checking the stove if it’s still turned on when you’re done cooking in the kitchen. Of course, another option would be to get on-site assistance for better safety, as well as doing the following:
- Checking the hot-water setting. You could reduce the maximum temperature (48 degrees Celsius) by a few degrees to avoid scalding burns. Make sure the hot and cold-water gauges on all taps are clearly marked.
- Making sure you have a working fire extinguisher and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in different rooms of the house. Check the batteries of your system periodically.
Use Technology to Have a Safer Home
Today, there are plenty of innovative smart home solutions designed to make your home a safer place and improve sustainability. Some of these home automation solutions include the following technologies:
- Medical alert systems: These systems are connected to monitoring centres, so with the push of a button, you can access emergency care services in seconds. There are also devices like smartwatches that detect falls and alert caregivers in life threatening situations. There are home automation systems that also collect home temperature and air quality data of rooms in the home, as well as provide location tracking services.
- Motion sensors: For your personal safety and that of your family’s, you can have motion detectors or motion-activated lighting installed inside rooms and outside your home to illuminate spaces when an intrusion is detected.
- Digital communication: If you live far away or would be left alone for an extended period, you can use technology to talk and stay in touch with your loved ones. You can use your computer or video phone apps to talk with friends and family members whenever you want.
Plan for Ageing in Place Today
Even with the availability of aged care services, social services, retirement villages and assisted living facilities, many people aspire to successfully age in place in the same house in order to remain independent and enjoy the comforts of their own homes.
However, ageing in place means some preparation is required and the earlier you create a future proof plan for your home, the better. This way, you don’t need to renovate when you’re already feeling the effects of age, can free up time to enjoy your retirement and identify any functional limitations of your home early. You’ll also be able to start accessing resources and planning thoroughly so you cover all the bases and make room for design flexibility and future changes.
Use this guide for inspiration and to create a future proof plan for ageing in place today so you can look forward to enjoying retirement when the time comes and make life easier. Live independently and make daily living easy as you age in place.
Aged Care and Home Care Services
Also, keep an eye out for future events that we run for free in conjunction with Injury Matters to help you stay on your feet and independent at home.