Accessibility–the Key to Aging in Place

As we age our needs change. Once, we may have bolted up the stairs. Now steps can present a challenge. Still, the majority of us want to stay in our homes and maintain the same quality of life and independence we’ve enjoyed during most of our adult lives. The problem is, most of our homes are not designed for older people and sometimes changes must be made, but… some homes are just harder to modify than others. If yours is a tri-level, four bedroom house, you may want to downsize and look for a home that suits your current needs or would be easier to modify.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will the changes that can be made improve my safety, independence and comfort?
  • What rooms in my home should have priority?
  • To determine which rooms need priority status — particularly if you want to stay in your home for many years — you may want to consider modifications to the current bathroom and/or adding a bath and moving the laundry to the main floor.
  • How much can I afford to budget for this project?
  • When budgeting, you may want to consider a reverse mortgage or an accessibility loan available through your state of residence. These loans usually have income guidelines.
  • How do I find a remodeler who will understand my needs?

To help in this decision, ask friends, family and neighbors for referrals; contact local trade and home builder associations; check with the Better Business Bureau; and attend a home improvement fair. Be sure to verify the remodeler you select has the necessary licenses and plenty of experience in the kinds of remodeling projects you require.

 Here’s a list of modifications that may help make your home more accessible and allow you to age in place.

  • Lighting (in any room): Add switch plates that light from behind and/or motion sensors. Change to fluorescent bulbs to disperse light more evenly.
  • Bathrooms: Add grab bars by toilets, in showers and tubs. Change faucet handles to lever-type.
  • Kitchen: Adjust countertop heights; relocate appliances; change cupboard hardware from knobs to handles; add pull-outs to shelves making items easier to reach.
  • Doorways: Widen these to accommodate a wheelchair or scooter; eliminate thresholds and rugs; switch door knobs to lever-style handles.
  • Hallways: Add hand rails on both sides; install light switches at each end of halls; remove rugs.
  • Stairways: Improve lighting; add a lift; remove rugs; add handrails to both sides.
  • Bedrooms: Add grab bars and/or handrails; install electric outlets and switches at convenient heights and locations; modify shelves with pull-outs.
  • Entryways: Where possible, remove thresholds, use ramps instead of steps.

Ask your remodeler for a written estimate of work to be done based on a clear set of plans and specifications you both agree upon. Be sure you also agree on the payment schedule and that you know ahead of time what to expect regarding cost of time and materials for your projects.

Pat Haduk is owner of Senior Home Renovations located in Minneapolis. His company specializes in residential remodeling and accessibility. You can contact him at 612-597-3370 and visit online at