How do you prepare a home for the disabled or elderly?

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When you’ve just bought your dream home or are designing and building it yourself, you might not want to think about the future when you may not be so able-bodied. Sadly, youth doesn’t last forever, and homeowners who want to age in place must take this into consideration from the get-go. Preparing a home for the elderly or disabled can be more complicated and more costly than you might think, and it’s not just about adding hand holds in the bathroom!

Luckily, our experts have a lot of advice to make it easier on you. Expert Steve Robinson points us in the right direction first, reminding us,

“there is an incredibly helpful design document available from the Department of Justice (responsible for enforcement of the ADA). These standards dimensionally define an amazing array of disability solutions. These standards have been developed to meet the broadest spectrum of disability needs (say shower size or door clearance), so meeting the standards will likely meet the need of the homeowner unless there is a very specific condition.”

Here’s some more things our experts recommend you consider when adapting your home for the elderly or disabled:

1. Widen Hallways and Doors

This is the most obvious change that needs to happen, but for good reason. Accessibility is the biggest issue faced by disabled people. Expert Patsy Pahr from the Contractor Discussion Group on LinkedIn has a few questions you should ask yourself:

“Are the sidewalks wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair? Are there any steps at all required to get into the home? Is the door wide enough, and is the threshold flat enough to get over? … The specialty items, like the special bath tub, lower sinks, and grab bars can be added as needed, but the space to get around in a chair, the lack of any steps at all on the first floor, and a full bathroom on the first floor are basic.”

These things are very difficult to change later, and can be quite expensive. Planning for wide hallways and easy access at the outset can save you a ton of money and stress.

2. Lighting

Many people do not realize how much your eyesight can deteriorate as you age, even if you’re healthy. Lights that work just fine for young people may not be enough for those with failing eye sight. Expert DeAnna Radaj explains:

“as you age, the lens of your eye yellows and you “see” differently. Brighter, natural spectrum lighting is key. Also, adding accent lighting to help “guide” those who are sight-impaired will also help them with life quality & independence.”

Look for the dark spots in your home and lighten them up. The ability to see clearly can drastically reduce the risk for tripping and falling, which is a huge concern for the elderly and disabled.

3. Acoustics

Another issue that the young and abled may not consider is the acoustics of a home. It’s easy to filter out all that extraneous noise when your hearing works properly, but it becomes much more difficult for the impaired. Expert Greg Chick shares his personal experience:

“Echo comes from surfaces and hearing issues are understanding what one hears, not the sound being loud enough. Carpet is good, but actually an acoustic engineer is even better. Room intercoms work when just yelling from one room to another wont work.”

Hiring an acoustic engineer might not occur to you, but it can be a great investment–and will save you the frustration of trying to shout over ambient noise.

4. Flooring

If the elderly or disabled person in your home is in a wheel chair, another top priority for you should be to get the carpets replaced. According to experts Grand View Builders,

“Carpet can make it difficult to move around independently in a wheelchair because it takes more energy to do so. Hardwood and laminate floors not only make the home easier to navigate; they are also very popular and can increase the re-sale value of a home.”

Making your home safe doesn’t always mean downgrading aesthetics. Wood floors are both stylish and easier to move around on safely.

5. Aesthetics

Of course, when you’re building with the elderly and disabled in mind, it’s easy to slip into a hospital mindset and start thinking practically without considering aesthetics. This is a huge mistake, however, as expert Kahshanna Evans explains:

“…[be] aware of the importance of changing the dynamic of a living space to nurture creativity, energy and overall well-being…. Changes that should be identified relate to safety and health, but also to having an inspired space people feel good in no matter what age they are.”

Just because somebody is disabled doesn’t mean they want their home to feel like a hospital. Expert Greg Chick says it best:

“Denial is a popular thing, and as a curve ball I am going to suggest form issues too! Form issues suggest current style and not looking like a rest home.”

People prefer to live at home for a reason. If your loved one wanted to live in a rest home, they would move to one!

Adapting a home to make it safe can feel overwhelming, but focusing on the most important elements first can make the task feel more manageable. Remember: every person, and disability, is different, so make sure you consult the person about their preferences.