Helpful Quality of Life Home Improvements for Seniors

Maintaining quality of life is an important issue for many seniors. As their physical abilities may begin to decline, many seniors rely heavily on age-in-place accommodations to maintain their independence. There are many changes that seniors can make to increase their ability to get around their own house. Those looking to improve a home for themselves or a loved one might consider the following projects.

Shower/Bathtub Upgrade

Many household falls take place in the bathroom, and the bathtub is often the reason for those falls. Seniors who have weakness in the legs, or who have a hard time maintaining balance can easily fall when trying to get into the bathtub or the shower. Replacing a standard bathtub with a curbless shower or a walk-in bathtub makes it safer for a senior to get into and out of the bathtub or shower on their own. When opting for a curbless shower, a shower bench/chair may also be a helpful addition.

The change from a standard bathtub to a curbless shower or walk-in bathtub should always be made by a qualified contractor. Talk to a professional before deciding whether to make these changes.

Safe Flooring

Tile and hardwood floors can be slippery, especially when wet. Seniors can avoid slips and falls by upgrading their flooring to a non-slip material, or by covering their floor with something that provides more traction.

Carpeting is an excellent non-slip material that can even cushion a senior's fall. Seniors who cannot afford to install all new flooring may want to lay down rugs in parts of the home that are often wet and in high-traffic areas. However, it is paramount that rugs should be of the non-slip variety or be anchored down by something like adhesive tape to avoid creating another falling hazard — a throw rug by itself is probably not ideal. It is advised that seniors should look for and repair curled edges of rugs to further reduce tripping hazards.

Anti-slip treads installed on staircases can also help seniors avoid a slip and fall. These treads can be installed inside and outside the home 

Improved Lighting

Bright Kitchen for Fall Prevention

Not every part of the home is well-lit. Closets, for example, are often dimly lit and may not illuminate every part of the area. Dark spaces can cause trips, leading to broken bones and other serious problems. Installing better lighting in dark spaces can help prevent this problem. Another part of the home where additional lighting can help the most is in the bathroom. Older homes frequently have poor lighting over the shower, bathtub and toilet. Installing recessed lighting in these areas can help a senior stay safe. Proper lighting is also important in hallways, where a narrow walkway can become a hazard for some seniors.

Other parts of the house where adequate lighting is very important includes the kitchen, where people often engage in activity that involves cutting food and working over an open flame. Installing lighting underneath cabinets may not only improve safety, but also enjoyment of the kitchen as an added bonus. 

Replacing Door Knobs With Levers

Door knobs may be hard to grasp at times, especially for people with arthritis or muscle weakness. Levers are much easier for seniors to operate because they require little hand strength and dexterity. Furthermore, levers can be the more sanitary option between these two door handle types. Since they can be opened by an elbow, wrist, or closed fist, fewer germs may be picked up on one's palms or fingers when moving from room to room.

This project can easily be done by a handy person, and does not require a contractor. 

Smart Device Additions

Woman Wearing Fall Detection Button

There are a variety of smart products that make life easier for anyone willing to set them up. Smart blinds, for example, can be controlled by a smart phone or can be programmed to open and close according to a timer. Smart blinds are especially helpful for someone who cannot easily grasp the string that controls the blinds, or for blinds that are in an awkward position behind furniture.

For a senior who is concerned about security, smart locks and a smart doorbell provide increased control over who enters the home. Smart locks and a smart doorbell can also help seniors feel safer at night, if they live alone. Medical alert systems and devices can detect falls (or be manually triggered) and alert emergency services.

Smart alarms on the stove can alert seniors when the stove is accidentally left on. Smart refrigerators alert seniors when a door is left open. Finally, smart thermostats enable seniors to easily program their home to maintain a comfortable temperature all year round. Some of these products can be installed by seniors or close friends and family, other products need to be installed by handy person or a qualified contractor. 

Install Grab Bars

Grab bars give seniors something to steady themselves with when they're standing up from a sitting position or when they're feeling off balance. Grab bars are most commonly found in the bathroom near the toilet and in the bathtub, but there are other areas of the home where they may help. Grab bars can also be useful for seniors near their bed, favorite chair, or even near the dining room table.

When installing grab bars, it's very important to ensure that the bars are installed properly, so they can support the weight of the person who is using them. Although grab bars may not need to be installed by a contractor, it's important to follow all instructions closely if going the DIY route. 

Remove Unnecessary Furniture

Unnecessary furniture can get in the way, causing slips, falls, and other accidents. Over time, it can become easy to accumulate stuff in a home—furniture included. It can be helpful to assess one's belongings each year and downsize/declutter accordingly. Since furniture is often cumbersome and/or heavy, a senior who needs their extra furniture removed may have this done by a junk removal professional or a mover who can move furniture safely. The goal with this is to create wide, clear pathways throughout the home, and reduce the amount of items that could cause falls or additional injuries if a fall occurs.

Assisted Mobility Accommodations

Happy Couple Outside Home

As some seniors age, they find they must use a walker or wheel chair to get around comfortably. Maneuvering around a house can be challenging in a wheelchair if special accommodations are not made. Usually these special accommodations involve ramps, wide doorways and wide hallways. These changes should be made by a qualified contractor to ensure they're done properly. Things like rugs or mats (even non-slip rugs or mats) with high sides might be difficult to wheel over or may catch a walker as it moves forward.

If you're a senior who would like to age in place, getting an in-home consultation from senior safety expert can help you decide which changes are the most important to make. Talk to your physician or an in-home care expert to find out how you can make your home senior-friendly. 

About the Author

Kris Lindahl is the team leader and owner of Kris Lindahl Real Estate. Working with both commercial and residential real estate, home/building accessibility is an area of particular interest for him.