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Aging at Home

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from Detroit at Home News

Simple modifications such as wider doorways, “curbless” shower enclosures with floor-level entry and easier access to step-down living rooms are among modifications that let seniors avoid being uprooted if one person in the household uses a walker or has restricted mobility. A gentle incline and handrail, for example, can assure continued use of a sunken family room or living room. Bathroom and bedroom doorways can be enlarged in just a day from the customary 28 inches in older homes to 33 inches or more, allowing unassisted entry with a walker or wheelchair.

Home ownership rewards for those in their 60s, 70s and beyond typically include mortgage-free living amid longtime friends in familiar neighborhoods. Owners can preserve that stability and security through renovations that add comfort and accommodate needs that arise as we mature.

Simple modifications such as wider doorways, “curbless” shower enclosures with floor-level entry and easier access to step-down living rooms are among modifications that let seniors avoid being uprooted if one person in the household uses a walker or has restricted mobility. A gentle incline and handrail, for example, can assure continued use of a sunken family room or living room. Bathroom and bedroom doorways can be enlarged in just a day from the customary 28 inches in older homes to 33 inches or more, allowing unassisted entry with a walker or wheelchair.

Other bathroom upgrades, which many owners incorporate into improvement projects before infirmity makes them a necessity, include sturdy safety bars alongside the commode, shower and elsewhere. They can double as towel racks, and won’t pull out if grabbed to prevent a fall, explains Patty Shea, founder of Shea Company Construction in Birmingham. “A built-in shower stall seat is another prudent addition that’s practical at any age. We call them universal design elements,” adds Shea, a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. “Some of our clients request the same type of improvements for their homes and their parents’ homes.”

When homeowners nearing retirement age modernize kitchens, Shea often recommends leaving a recessed opening under sinks and counters so they are reachable with a walker. Larger projects can involve converting a first-floor den into a master bedroom that is simpler to reach than one upstairs.

Each project reflects the same type of gracious appearance and elegant materials provided for other residential work, such as tile, marble, granite and wood. Making a home senior-friendly adds lasting value without adding an institutional atmosphere. “These investments bring safety and convenience,” says Shea. “They also provide quality-of-life benefits by letting residents remain where they are most comfortable, rather than in an assisted-living facility.”

Improvements can be done in gradual stages to add accommodations as they are needed, perhaps starting with doorway-widening that costs as little as $400 for each area enlarged. “The gratitude expressed by owners who are able to “stay put” shows that this is a worthwhile investment,” comments Shea, who earned 2006 Remodelor of the Year recognition from the Building Industry Association of Southeastern Michigan and is vice-chair of its Remodelors Council.

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