A Home with Universal Design Features Lets You Age in Place

If you’re like most people, you envision yourself maintaining your independence and your own private living space well into the future. Even if you personally don’t ever expect to be infirm or elderly, designing for all needs and life stages is smart.

An AARP found that 8 out of 10 people aged 45 plan to stay in their homes for as long as possible. Incorporating the principles of universal design into your home upgrades or new building endeavors ensures that you will be able to age in place thanks to features that take reduced mobility, strength and balance into account.

Follow these recommendations to create a safe, accessible home that will grow old with you.

  • Doors should be at least 32 inches wide, with a lever-style handle for easy grasping (incorporating locks where necessary for child safety), and open outward if at all possible. Interior doors can also have their hinges replaced with offset hinges that will allow for an extra two inches of width clearance. A Home with Universal Design Features Lets You Age in PlaceA pocket door is even better, simple to operate and granting quick access for those with wheelchairs or walkers. Pocket doors require plenty of useable adjacent wall space for installation, but can also be mounted on the wall surface if needed.
  • When it comes to the floor, choose a non-slip surface and make sure there’s enough space for comfortable navigation by wheelchair.
  • Equip all stairways inside and out with secure handrails running along both sides of the steps. Also make sure that stair treads are roomy enough to prevent trips, and edges are marked for easy visibility (use a different color of tile, stain the edge of a wood step with a contrasting tone for a helpful and decorative detail, run a metal edge along a carpeted step, or accentuate with colorful tape).
  • Fill the space with plenty of bright lighting, and have a night light on duty at all times. Larger, rocker type light switches are handy for everyone, and even come in illuminated models.
  • At first it may sound like a five-star hotel luxury, but having a phone in the bathroom can actually end up being a lifesaver. Select a wall-mounted, non-portable model with the largest touch-tone keys you can find, and install it at a height that’s easy to reach even if you’re lying on the floor. Pre-program the phone with important numbers.
  • Outfit cabinets with easy-to-grasp hardware.
  • Keep closets accessible as well as organized, with easy-to-reach clothing rods stationed between 20 and 44 inches off the floor and full-extension storage drawers located no higher than 30 inches off the floor. Higher drawers should be shallow and lower drawers can be deeper.
  • Eliminate excess clutter to prevent trips and falls while maintaining safe exit access.
  • Maintain one step-free entrance into the main living area, and repair any holes, cracks or loose masonry on all pathways and entrances around your home.

Despite the downright smart functionality of improvements like these, they can be accomplished with both safety and style.  Thanks to the teaming of AARP and the National Association of Home Builders, there are now professionals in most communities who can easily make your personal design plans universal.

Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) are contractors trained in the unique needs of aging residents and can assist with design modifications that extend independent living and keep spaces barrier-free as well as attractive and welcoming. They know codes and standards inside and out, and have the project and product knowledge to make your new space a great value for years to come, whatever your age and needs and those of family members residing with you.  Learn more at aarp.org.

AARP also offers a range of helpful tools for constructing your universal design strategy, including room assessment tools and safety checklists. Visit www.aarp.org/homedesign to get started.

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