Years after the aging-in-place trend first took off, and as more and more older adults choose to live at home as they age, I’m still surprised by how many misconceptions there are about aging-in-place design.
These misconceptions have spurred major aging-in-place renovation myths and, as a result, confusion has taken hold.
To make good decisions, you need good information. I want every aging-in-place DIYer out there to get their hands on accurate, valuable information before they start to sketch out a kitchen upgrade or pick up a hammer.
So, let’s put an end to the biggest aging-in-place renovation myths and bust them once and for all.
The Top 3 Aging-in-Place Renovation Myths
Myth #1: Aging-in-Place Design Only Focuses on Safety Upgrades
Safety is the primary focus when renovating an aging-in-place home. However, aging-in-place design should go well beyond safety upgrades and create a home that’s comfortable as well.
Comfort can mean a few different things here. In my aging-in-place renovations, designing for comfort means finding ways to alleviate any pain or discomfort that a traditional home could create. I pay particular attention to anything that can cause arthritis pain. The most recent numbers I’ve found from the CDC show that 50-percent of adults over 65 years old have arthritis, and the numbers keep going up.
Chances are that even if your parent doesn’t develop arthritis, their hands will become tired and sore the older they get. Putting upgrades in place now to alleviate or prevent arthritis pain later should be high up on your list of aging-in-place renovations.
Some of the best ways to make your aging-in-place home more comfortable for sore, arthritic hands include:
- Replace Doorknobs with Lever Handles. Handles require much less grip strength than doorknobs. Upgrading every door and cabinet doorknob to a handle lever may seem like a small upgrade, but it will immediately make a huge difference in your parent’s comfort.
- Read my article, ‘Best Door Levers for Adults with Arthritis’ for comfortable door handle recommendations.
- Install a Touchless Kitchen Faucet. A touchless faucet turns on simply by placing your hands under the spout – completely painless.
Here are five excellent touchless faucets to check out.
- Moen Arbor Motionsense Pulldown Kitchen Faucet
- Kohler Sensate Touchless Kitchen Faucet
- Moen Align Touchless Pulldown Kitchen Faucet
- BioBidet FLOW Motion Sensor Kitchen Faucet
- Pfister Stellen Touchless Pulldown Kitchen Faucet
I published a full review of each faucet in my article, ‘5 of the Best Touchless Kitchen Faucets for Aging in Place’.
- Add Dimmer Switches in Main Living Areas. A dimmer switch with a large, easy-to-flip switch – or even better yet, voice control capabilities – will let your parent adjust the light in the room to a level that’s comfortable for their eyes throughout the day.
- Read my article, ‘The 4 Best Dimmer Switches for Aging in Place’ for my list of favorite switches.
Myth #2: Aging-in-Place Homes Look Like Nursing Homes
Not at all! This myth gets busted in every aging-in-place home renovation project I complete and there’s no reason why you can’t create a safe, comfortable home for your parents in a style they love.
There are a ton of aging-in-place safety features that offer just as much style. Recessed lights are the perfect example. Take a look at just about any new residential construction project and you’re going to see recessed lights above main living areas, master bathrooms, and kitchens. They’re a practical and elegant way to add both ambient and task lighting to your aging-in-place home.
You can learn everything you need to know about recessed lights by reading my recent article, ‘How to Install Recessed Lights for Aging in Place.’
Wall color is another opportunity to add both style and safety to your parent’s home. Did you know that color is a powerful tool in aging-in-place design? And not just from a style standpoint. As our eyesight deteriorates with age, cool colors fade faster than warm colors, our depth of perception weakens and it becomes more difficult to identify contrast.
For all of these reasons, high-contrast colors are best when you’re designing or renovating your parent’s home. Blue and orange color schemes, for instance, create lots of contrast. By painting a hallway a light orange and the bedroom it leads to a deep blue, you’re creating the type of color contrast that helps your parent better judge distances and navigate the house safely.
I have a ton of aging-in-place color tips that you can read in my article, ‘Tips for Applying High-Contrast Paint to Make Your Home Aging-in-Place Friendly.’
Myth #3: Converting a Traditional Home into An Aging-in-Place Home Requires a Full Remodel
The extent of your remodel will, of course, depend on your current home. But, there are a lot of features found in traditional homes that you can modify or update to meet the safety needs of an aging-in-place home.
Let’s focus on two major spaces in the home – the bathroom and the kitchen – and some of the features you can add to your existing home to increase your parent’s ability to safely age in place – no major home overhaul required.
If you’re going to invest in any room in your aging-in-place home, it’s the bathroom. That’s because more accidents that result in serious injury happen in the bathroom than anywhere else in the house.
The big culprit here is water. If water gets on the floor of the master bathroom, which is more likely than in any other room in the home, you have a major slip risk. Not to mention the risk of getting in and out of the shower itself. We obviously can’t do away with the master bathroom, so focus your renovation efforts on specific upgrades that maximize safety in the aging-in-place bathroom. Here are four smart places to start.
- Remove the tub and install a zero-threshold shower. Remove the need to step into or out of the shower. Stepping up into the shower, especially if you have a shower tub, is inviting a fall risk. I cover this entire install project in my article, ‘Converting a Tub to a Zero-Threshold Shower.’ Make this project a priority when you tackle your bathroom renovation.
- Add non-slip mats, grab bars and other products to make the shower safer. Small additions to the bathroom can make big impacts. Some great products to add to the inside of the shower include:
- Install a Non-Slip Floor. A non-slip floor is the first line of defense against slips and falls in the aging-in-place bathroom. The hardest part of installing a non-slip floor isn’t the installation. It’s knowing which floors are actually non-slip and offer enough protection to support an older adult with mobility issues.
- My recommendation to aging-in-place DIYers is to start with vinyl. Vinyl is one of the most slip-resistant flooring materials, it’s waterproof and it’s easy to install.
- There are three main categories of vinyl, each with its pros and cons. Here are a few of the products I like to use in my aging-in-place renovations.
- Personally, I prefer vinyl planks. They’re my go-to vinyl floor because they have it all – they’re non-slip, low maintenance, and they give you a stylish real-wood look. For a full look at non-slip floors for aging in place, you can read through my article, ‘How to Find Flooring That’s Safe, Inexpensive, and Easy to Install.’
- Add ADA-Compliant Fixtures. Whenever possible, look for fixtures that meet the safety standards set by The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. In order for a faucet, showerhead and other aging-in-place fixture to be ADA-compliant, it must be easy and comfortable to operate – no tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist. Each fixture must be operable with one hand and not require more than 5-lbs of force to activate.
The ADA also wants each fixture to sit within a height range of 15-48-inches off of the surface of the floor. ADA-compliant fixtures are especially important for adults with arthritis.
A few ADA-compliant bathroom fixtures worth installing include:
- Moen Adjustable Shower Head with Grab Bar
- Delta Sink Faucet
- Delta Shower Head and Faucet
- American Standard Shower Handle
The kitchen is another important part of the house to put your aging-in-place renovation dollars if you’re not looking to do an entire home overhaul. Focus your energy and your dollars on updates that will reduce the likelihood of slips, trips and falls. Also focus on updates that prevent burns and alleviate pain to sore, arthritic hands.
Just like when updating your aging-in-place bathroom, non-slip floors and ADA-compliant faucets and fixtures are two critical areas of focus. The same non-slip vinyl floors mentioned above will work well for the kitchen.
Remember, for a faucet to be ADA-compliant it should turn on and off with easy-to-use handles rather than knobs. I covered my favorite touchless kitchen faucets above. However, if your parent prefers to turn the water on and off the old fashioned way, here are a few ADA-compliant lever-handle kitchen faucets that work well for aging-in-place.
- Install ADA-Compliant Faucets
I also recommend putting these two other kitchen upgrades on your list.
- Convert the Range to a Cooktop. Removing your range and converting it to an electric cooktop is a great solution for avoiding potential burns while cooking. This isn’t a major overhaul of your kitchen, but there is some pretty serious complexity to this project. If you’re a more advanced DIYer, you can check out my article, ‘Tips for Converting Your Range to a Cooktop Steve and Wall Oven for Aging in Place’ for step-by-step directions to complete this installation. If not, this may be a project for a professional contractor.
- Convert Cabinet Knobs to Pulls. This is perhaps the easiest aging-in-place DIY upgrade – installing new cabinet pull handles. The ADA wants to see pull handles on cabinets that are wide enough for your parent to grip without pain. The standard width of a cabinet pull is 3-inches. For the aging-in-place kitchen, aim for a slightly wider pull to make sure your parent isn’t causing themselves pain by just trying to grasp the pull, let alone when applying pressure.
Here are a few of my suggested cabinet pulls for a safe, comfortable aging-in-place kitchen.
Learn everything you want to know about kitchen cabinet hardware, and more, by reading through my article, ‘10 of the Best Cabinet Pulls and Knobs for Aging in Place.’
As I continue to talk with DIYers, I hope to put misconceptions about aging-in-place design to rest. There is so much you can do to improve the safety of your parent’s home, and it’s my goal to provide you with reliable information that you can use to create the type of home your parents will enjoy for years and years.
There are even more aging-in-place myths out there, so as you start planning your next renovation project, I’m here to help guide you towards good information and resources. Use the comments section to let me know what you need or to send me any questions you have along the way.
Good luck with your next aging-in-place home renovation project!