Universal Design Aids Baby Boomers’ Aging in Place

Kristin Luna
Written by Kristin Luna
Updated November 19, 2021
Senior couple drinking coffee and using laptop
Monkey Business – stock.adobe.com

Incorporating a flexible design into home builds and remodeling projects is key for homeowners who want to age in place

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The prospect of aging may be an intimidating one, but as you remodel a house, it’s wise to think ahead to the future. Incorporating a universal design will allow your house to age with you so you can stay in your home for decades to come; this not only creates a sense of independence, but also security.

The concept of universal design benefits homeowners of all ages but also ensures that you needn’t forfeit aesthetics for improved function and safety. Here are a few aging-in-place design ideas to try.

1. Start With the Bathroom

Galss door shower and one sink vanity
beau – stock.adobe.com

The bathroom is one of the first rooms in the house you’ll want to consider for aging in place. Bathrooms can contain many potential slipping hazards, so avoid a step-in tub and opt for an all-in-one shower-bathtub combination with a built-in bench and handheld shower head. You also might opt for a non-slip, walk-in shower with a bench instead, one that is large enough to fit a wheelchair and has a seamless transition (no lip between the bathroom floor and the stall).

You’ll also want to add railings in the shower and grab bars by the toilet in any bathroom remodeling job, in addition to making sure the door openings are large enough to accommodate a wheelchair or walker.

2. Incorporate Handles and Railings Where Possible

Home staircase with wooden railing
Wirestock – stock.adobe.com

Adding railings along long hallways and corridors is always a good idea when the potential of falling is a concern. Be sure and install a grab bar alongside any stairwell that may not currently have one, even if it’s just a step or two at the front or back door.

3. Choose the Right Flooring

Open concept kitchen and living room interior
bmak – stock.adobe.com

Some older adults may find themselves having trouble with uneven surfaces; non-slip floors, therefore, are a must. Pick a flooring option that offers sufficient traction in slippery shoes or stocking feet. To further eliminate tripping hazards, outfit your rooms with non-slip rugs or low-pile carpet and lay out your furniture so that it’s out of the way and not in a direct walking path.

4. Keep Stairs to a Minimum

Metal wheel chair ramp outside of a brick building
Александр Науменко –stock.adobe.com

If designing new construction for aging in place, you may want to consider building a ranch-style home that has as few steps in the entryways as possible. If eliminating stairs into the house from the outside are unavoidable, building a ramp with a grab bar or installing a stairs configuration that can easily be converted down the line when needed is a back-up plan.

If you’re renovating an older home, it’s smart to make any additions like an accessible bathroom or an in-law suite on the ground level. If your current home does not have any first-floor bedrooms, you may want to add one.

5. Opt for a Universal Design in the Kitchen

Kitchen with led lights under cabinets
sonyachny – stock.adobe.com

Older adults often see a reduction in contrast sensitivity and color discrimination, thus requiring more lighting to tackle necessary tasks like cooking. Adding strips of LED lights or task lighting under cabinets is smart home design for aging in place as it will help increase visibility, as well as improve accessibility, aiding in your safety as you move around the kitchen. 

To add even more functional space in your kitchen remodel, choose pull-down or pull-out shelving that makes getting things in and out of cupboards and pantries a breeze.

6. Install Accessible Blinds and Light Switches

bedroom with motorized roller shades
Kuka – stock.adobe.com

Choose motorized window treatments to make opening and lowering blinds or shades much easier—especially those in rooms with difficult-to-access areas like higher ceilings or taller windows. Installing shutters will eliminate the need to lift and lower altogether.

Many older adults may find motion-sensor lights preferable to traditional light switches, not to mention more secure as they turn on automatically should you, for example, get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Nightlights in highly trafficked areas are a wise idea, and touch-activated lamps are another convenient option for bedside lighting. Don’t neglect the outdoors, either—be sure and install motion-sensor lights along any walkway to eliminate tripping hazards should you come home late at night under a veil of darkness.

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