Aging In Place

New house concept, happy senior couple holding small home model

Planning the Home of Your Later Years

“The Golden Years,” a 1950s advertising slogan used to market one of the first retirement developments in the U.S., has always suggested that starting at the age of 65 we can relax and live as if we are on vacation every day. We stop working, and all we have been working for begins.

But over the last six decades a lot has changed. People are retiring later in life, or not all. Folks are staying healthier and more active well into their 80s. And it is said that 60 years of age is now the new 40. A lot of people are not interested in going to the “retirement home” and even the definition of what a retirement home is has changed. But one thing has not changed: everyone is going to get older.

The new phrase for this phase in our lives is “aging in place,” meaning being able to stay in our home if we can. But there are some things to think about before we get to the “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” stage in life. Whether it’s during a home remodeling project, a new home build, or it’s just time to make some plans, there are some things that can be done now that will make a big difference down the road.

Mobility issues can pop up any time. Consider creating all the living and sleeping spaces you use daily on the first floor. When there are opportunities to create wider hallways and doorways, take them. A 36” doorway can handle most situations. Install smooth flooring, knowing rugs can be removed later when they need to disappear. Some flooring options have more anti-slip qualities than others, so carefully shop for flooring and ask for help. Increase indoor visibility with good overhead and task lighting and under the cabinet lights in the kitchen and bath can establish good pathways at night.

There are several ways to improve the bathroom to be ready for the time when more support is needed. Remove barriers to entering the shower. Keep the floor flat between the bathroom and the shower floor. Build in a bench for seated bathing or leave room for a free-standing bench to be used as needed. Be sure you have a handheld water fixture in addition to the standard overhead one. Curtains or wide shower doors will keep the water out. By simply adding blocking to the framing in the bath area during a new project, you will be ready to securely install grab bars later. Use easy to grasp pulls on the cabinets in the bath as well as in the kitchen. Lever handles for doors will be easier to grab too. A chair height toilet is good idea now and later.

The kitchen can be a real challenge if walking and standing become difficult. Round corners on cabinets and islands. Change traditional door front cabinets with drawers under counters, making it easier to reach in and get what you need without standing. Drawer microwave ovens that are installed below the counter are considered a luxury item these days, but they could be the most convenient way to cook in years to come.

Technology continues to amaze with all the smart home gadgets and services there are. Internet connections need to be a priority. Get used to using your smart phone now as a convenient way to control thermostats, indoor and outdoor lighting, and your home security. That is just the beginning. Almost everything comes with remote capabilities that you can access from anywhere. Newer range exhaust fans come with remote controls these days! Simplify it all as much as possible with an application that can control multiple devices but don’t shy away from new innovations.

Make your home a haven with less hassle. Reducing maintenance can make life much easier and reduce your need for assistance. Even gardening and yard work that provide such a respite from a busy world now can become difficult at some point. Landscape with native plants that will require a lot less tending when you are ready to travel for extended periods or just do not want to work as hard as you used to.

Life changes. Interests change. The pace of life changes, thank goodness! That is not a bad thing. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are if we get to grow old. And luckier still if we get to experience the process of aging with someone we love. Aging is a fact of life, but it is a state of mind too. Sometimes you are as old as you feel but you are never too old to greet a sunrise with a smile on your face or a sunset with a good friend and a good drink. Aging gracefully with a positive attitude is a choice. Being able to live in a comfortable place surrounded by good memories, well that is just icing on the cake.

  Holly Harrison has been a licensed interior designer for over 35 years. Shannon Stage has spent nearly 20 years in the giftware industry. Together they own Sassy Bird Interiors in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

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