What Is Aging in Place, and Is It an Option in Your Current Home?

If you decide that you want to age in place, you need to assess whether your current home can be adapted to meet your needs as you age—here’s how.

light brick ranch exterior chimney with trellis
Photo: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

As people age, they’re faced with a choice between continuing to live in their own homes or opting for a senior living arrangement. More and more, families are making the choice to stay put as part of a phenomenon known as aging in place. 

Aging in place has many different interpretations, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” The National Institute on Aging calls aging in place staying in your own home as you get older and has tips for connecting to local resources to make aging in place easier, as well.

Essentially, aging in place is making the decision to stay put as you get older—and then making the necessary accommodations and renovations to make your home as safe and accessible as possible.

Once you’ve decided that you do want to age in place—which is a choice you can make years or even decades before the fact, if you’re planning far in advance—you need to consider whether that’s a possibility in your current home. Some homes—those with multiple stories, for example, or those with narrow passageways that would be difficult to widen—aren’t as accommodating of modifications for aging in place as others. Moving into a home that can be easily modified years before you actually need those modifications can make your transition into aging in place much simpler and less stressful.

  • Susann Crawford is a vice president at Caring, a company that helps seniors and their families find the best living and care solutions for their needs.
  • Lisa Cini is an Ohio-based designer specializing in senior living.

As you consider your options for aging in place, these experts have some insights into whether you should upgrade your current home or purchase a new one.

Deciding Where to Age in Place

As you make the choice between staying and upgrading your current home or finding a new home better suited to aging in place, ask yourself: Do you feel safe and connected in your current neighborhood? Many seniors are reluctant to leave their current location because they have local support, connections to doctors, a favorite grocery store, et cetera, says Susann Crawford, vice president at Caring.

But if you feel unsafe in your current location or disconnected from neighbors or relatives, you might look for a different location, says Lisa Cini, an Ohio-based designer specializing in senior living.

If your home needs all of the necessary upgrades but you lack the cash flow to complete the upgrades, you might be better off selling your current home and buying a new one that’s already been upgraded with key aging in place features. This could even yield some profit, which you can put toward other future needs, such as in-home nurses or caretakers. 

Crawford says most home contractors these days are familiar with the types of common requests for aging in place upgrades, and you should be able to easily find a local pro to help with the installation of shower grab bars, for example.

Cini, who specializes in consulting with senior residents about the safety of their homes, suggests hiring a designer like herself to come in and tell you what parts of your home pose a risk before deciding to move. 

If you think you’d rather move onto a different property, look for a new build. Many new builds have larger hallways, doorways, and stairways, Crawford says. They might even come with some key aging in place features, as builders account for the growing number of seniors in the housing market. 

“There are homes specifically built to accommodate future needs, and we’re seeing more and more builders taking that into consideration and having those options available,” Crawford says. 

Tell your real estate agent what you’re looking for as you house-hunt to make sure you’re seeing the full range of aging-friendly homes.

Key Considerations for Aging in Place

Once you’ve determined that your current home can be modified to suit your needs as you age or you’ve found a new home that is well-suited to aging in place, it’s important that you do everything you can to minimize the risks associated with aging—namely, the risk of falling. Here, our experts suggest key rooms and features to consider as you prepare your home.

Pay Attention to Bathrooms

Falls are common in the bathroom, where moisture is ever present and surfaces are slippery. As you assess the safety of your current home to make it better suited to aging in place, start with this room. 

“It’s dangerous from a slip and fall standpoint, and a lot of times the lighting is not good,” Cini says.

Another bathroom danger is the change in temperatures you experience while bathing, Cini says, which can also lead to falls. 

“When you’re getting in and out of the shower, your blood pressure drops when you get hot and then you’re getting cold again,” she says.  

One way to combat these risks is to install grab bars in the shower and near the toilet for added stability and to aid with balance. Cini suggests a bidet, as well, to make bathroom hygiene safer. 

You can address problems with body temperatures by installing combination heat light bulbs, Cini says. And there are also mirrors that resist fogging, which makes it easier to see yourself and prevent slippery condensation from building.

Ensure Adequate Lighting

Lighting is another common factor in at-home falls and other accidents. Poor lighting makes it difficult to navigate the home and even prepare meals in the kitchen. If you’re choosing to stay in your current home as you age, adequate lighting is a good feature to invest in, Crawford says.

“Older homes tend to be darker, more dim, and there are not as many windows,” Crawford says. “And people trip and fall when they can’t see well.” 

The problem of low lighting compounds other mobility problems. Cini says that, generally, older adults require 70 percent more lighting than younger adults. Additional overhead lighting can be a simple fix. Consider adding lights in your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom, as well as above staircases. 

Address Navigation Problems

Other potential navigational obstacles in the home include narrow hallways, doorways, and staircases. Many older homes were designed with narrower spaces and can be difficult to navigate if you end up needing a wheelchair, walker, or cane. Newer homes, on the other hand, have wider doorways and stairways. 

“It’s so much easier then to install something like a chair lift,” Crawford says, should you need one down the road. 

Another factor to consider is the number of stories in your home. If you often have to negotiate steps, you might want to consider moving your bedroom to the main floor or finding a ranch-style home

Keep in mind that even single-level homes can pose risks. Watch for steps into the garage or up onto a porch or entryway. There can also be difficult transitions between rooms and types of flooring. An easy way to make your home aging in place friendly is to remove area rugs, which can pose a trip hazard, Crawford says. 

“Flooring can pose risks; bubbles under carpeting, even chipped tile,” she says. “But the other thing that really gets people with falls is decorating and clutter.” 

Removing decorative plants, side tables, and other knick-knacks and staying on top of piled laundry, mail, or magazines can clear a path for you to navigate your home safely, and it’s something you can do for free. 

Find Helpful Home Tech

Whether you choose to stay or go, investing in home tech can be a great way to enhance your at-home independence while making life easier for residents of all ages. 

These days, you can automate the lights in your home, your heating and cooling systems, and safety features such as locks and home security equipment. Both new and old homes can accommodate these features, which are relatively affordable. 

But you can get creative, too. Seniors living at home can provide their children or caretakers with access to home cameras so someone can keep an eye on the property and the people living there. 

“It used to be you needed to have Life Alert or your phone on you to contact someone,” Crawford says. 

Cini suggests installing blackout shades in the bedroom to improve sleep quality, which can help with many medical conditions. You can even have these automated, which she finds is a good investment. 

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  1. "Healthy Places Terminology." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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