Your home is an important anchor for you and your life, providing consistency, familiarity, and a style and decor that is all your own. If someone you love is getting older and dealing with new mobility or access needs, they don’t necessarily need to leave all that behind. Instead, you can do a structural remodel that will allow them to enjoy more years in the comfort of their home, with all of the support they need. From lifts to snow melt louvers, there are plenty of resources out there to help seniors live their best lives, longer.
Defining Your Needs To Remodel
A structural remodel starts with an assessment of needs. The needs of someone transitioning to a wheelchair might be very different from those of someone who has memory issues. Before you dig into the contracting side of things, do a deep dive into what accommodations are necessary and desirable. What is necessary for safety? What might help increase quality of life? Sometimes it can be easy to focus on your structural remodel and forget other important supports, like grocery delivery, residential cleaning services, laundry services, and home-care nursing.
How much time is spent outdoors? While some seniors with mobility issues are more comfortable indoors the majority of the time, others are attached to their yards and gardens. For active outdoor seniors, there are some extra accommodations to make. They may need more pavement maintenance to keep surfaces even, and improved evening lighting with the help of a local landscape lighting service.
Once you know what you’ll need for the home inside and out, you can reconsider the layout of the home for your structural remodel. It may be necessary to reconfigure rooms, widen doorways, or create more open spaces to accommodate assistive devices such as walkers or wheelchairs. Additionally, you might need to make changes to the bathroom and kitchen areas to make them more accessible, including installing grab bars, ramps, and non-slip flooring.
Indoor lighting is another essential and underrated factor. It’s important to ensure that the home is well-lit (with plenty of natural light, if possible) to reduce the risk of falls and provide a more comfortable living environment. This is especially important for those with vision issues. It might also be necessary to install additional lighting fixtures, such as under-cabinet lighting or motion-activated lights, to make it easier to navigate the home during the night or during a power outage.
For materials and finishes, it’s important to choose options that are both durable and easy to maintain. This can include options such as hardwood or tile flooring and low-maintenance countertops and cabinets in the kitchen and bathroom. The home needs to be not just easy to use and get around in, but also easy to clean and care for.
Wheelchairs and walkers don’t always fit into conventionally designed homes. By increasing the width of doorways, seniors with mobility aids can get around effortlessly without worrying about bumping into walls or furniture. This structural remodel significantly reduces the risk of falls or other accidents because it maximizes the space for movement and minimizes the chances of getting stuck in a cramped area.
To widen doorways, home improvement contractors need to remove the existing door and door frame and then meticulously cut away the surrounding wall to create a larger opening. After you create the opening, you can install a new door and frame.
Obviously, this is no DIY project. Contractors who widen doors need to understand the architecture of the home they are modifying and have extensive skills and experience making these kinds of modifications in accordance with local building codes. An amateur could end up removing load-bearing beams and compromising the structural integrity of the building.
Your contractor for this project needs to have exceptional carpentry skills, as well as hands-on experience working with diverse types of wall construction, such as drywall or plaster. Plus, they need to work closely with the homeowner to guarantee that the new opening is positioned accurately, and that the new door and frame suit the decor and style.
You may need to relocate light switches or other electrical outlets to accommodate the new opening. This can add an additional layer of complexity to the project. Widening doors isn’t the easiest part of a structural remodel, but it can make a home safer and easier to navigate.
Cooking for yourself is a hallmark of independence. However, most kitchens have high cabinets and counters that are inaccessible for those in wheelchairs or with limited mobility. This makes the kitchen a high-risk area where injuries can happen. We can make kitchens more accessible by lowering the height of countertops, installing pull-out shelves, adding task lighting, and using lever-style handles on cabinets and drawers.
Lowering the height of countertops may require adjusting the height of base cabinets and the location of appliances, such as the stove and sink. Pull-out shelves may require adjustments to the interior of cabinets. However, installing new lighting and drawer handles is pretty much a breeze!
It’s important to take a thoughtful and deliberate approach when making a kitchen more accessible for seniors with mobility issues, considering every possibility and eventuality. For a structural remodel, it helps to work with an experienced contractor who understands the specific needs of seniors. With the right expertise and approach, these modifications can be made safely and effectively to transform a dangerous and inaccessible kitchen into a safe and comfortable environment.
Up to 80% of the falls that occur in the home happen in the bathroom. For this reason, bathrooms are an especially important area to focus on for your structural remodel. Some simple modifications can make a bathroom safer and more accessible for seniors.
You can add grab bars to provide support and stability for seniors who struggle with getting up and down from the toilet or stepping into the shower or bathtub. Non-slip flooring is also an important addition to prevent slips and falls, which can be especially dangerous for seniors. You can install a walk-in shower or bathtub to eliminate the need to step over a high threshold, making it safer for seniors to enter and exit. Lowering the height of the sink can also make it easier for seniors who use a wheelchair to perform daily tasks like washing their hands or brushing their teeth, and installing a raised toilet seat is another modification that can make it easier for seniors who have difficulty getting up and down from the toilet.
A bathroom remodel company should be able to help you get your structural remodel just right. Grab bars must be securely anchored to the wall and able to support the weight of a senior. Non-slip flooring should be durable, easy to clean, and slip-resistant. Installing a walk-in shower or bathtub may require lowering the bathroom floor to ensure proper drainage, and lowering the height of the sink may require adjusting the height of the countertop or installing a wall-mounted sink. Installing a raised toilet seat may require adjusting the height of the toilet or installing a new toilet altogether. Home improvement contractors can help you to add these features safely.
Flooring with Safe Traction
When it comes to flooring for seniors with mobility issues, the ideal is typically non-slip, low-pile carpeting or smooth surfaces such as hardwood, vinyl, or linoleum. These surfaces offer good traction and are easy to navigate, even for those who use mobility aids like walkers or wheelchairs. Throw rugs, high-pile carpets, and smooth flooring can all be hazardous.
The type of ramp or rail that is best suited for an individual will depend on their specific needs and limitations. For instance, a portable ramp or threshold ramp might work for seniors who struggle to step over small obstacles, but a permanent ramp is better for those who use a wheelchair or have more significant mobility impairments. Rails or handrails aren’t just for the bathroom – they can provide additional safety anywhere seniors may need to stand or are likely to fall. A thoughtful combination of ramps and rails can provide safety throughout the home.
Contractors must take several crucial factors into account when undertaking this kind of structural remodel. Non-slip flooring must provide enough traction while being durable and easy to clean. Ramps must be installed at an appropriate slope and width to accommodate the individual’s mobility aid. Rails and handrails should be anchored to the wall securely and able to support the person’s weight.
Contractors need to be aware of any local building codes or regulations that may be relevant to these upgrades, as well as any structural modifications that may be necessary. Making these upgrades requires meticulous planning and execution to ensure that the resulting accommodations are safe, functional, and effective for seniors with mobility issues.
Lifts and Assistive Seating
Lifts and assistive seating can make a world of difference for seniors with mobility issues, enabling them to live fuller and more independent lives. Lifts like stair lifts and platform lifts can help seniors navigate between levels of their home with ease and safety, removing the need to use stairs. Assistive seating, like power lift chairs or recliners, can help seniors with mobility issues get up and down from a seated position comfortably and safely, reducing the risk of falls and improving overall comfort.
For lifts, it’s crucial to consider the size and weight of the individual, as well as the specific needs of the home. To ensure that the lift is safe and reliable, it should be installed by a licensed and experienced contractor. The structural remodel process may also require structural modifications, like installing support beams or widening doorways.
For assistive seating, contractors must take into account the individual’s specific needs and preferences, such as cushioning, recline positions, and any additional features like heat or massage functions. The chair should also be of the appropriate size to ensure comfort and safety. To install assistive seating, you might need to make some extra room by removing nearby furniture and include extra support by installing railings or grab bars.
Safety and Planning Ahead
Seniors who live in their own homes for longer do take certain risks, but these can be mitigated by using technology, and planning ahead. Even if the home is perfectly safe, accidents and medical emergencies happen. Being aware of this, you can take precautions and be prepared. Health and safety for seniors is about more than a Medicare prescription plan, it’s about managing changing needs and risks.
MedicAlert devices, also known as medical alert systems, are devices that allow seniors to call for help in case of an emergency. They typically come in the form of a bracelet or pendant that can be worn at all times. In the event of an emergency, the senior can press a button on the device to summon emergency services or a designated caregiver. No amount of grab bars or traction flooring can completely eliminate the risk of a fall, so using a MedicAlert device is recommended for seniors who live alone.
Fall alarms are also an important safety feature for seniors with mobility issues. These devices can detect when a fall occurs and alert caregivers or emergency services. They can be particularly helpful for seniors who are at risk of falls due to conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or stroke. A fall alarm can detect a fall even if the person falling is unconscious or incapacitated.
Smart home devices can also be helpful for seniors with mobility issues, too. For example, smart home assistants like Amazon Echo or Google Home can be programmed to turn on lights, adjust the thermostat, or even order groceries, all through voice commands. Smart door locks and security cameras can also improve safety and security for seniors living alone.
In terms of estate planning, seniors should consider creating a will or trust with an estate planning attorney to ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes after they pass away. Estate planners can walk you through the legal processes. Seniors living at home should also consider appointing a power of attorney to make decisions on their behalf in the event that they become incapacitated.
To be prepared for the worst while living free of fear, seniors with mobility aids should consider taking a few additional steps. They should ensure that they have a good support network of family, friends, and caregivers who can assist them in case of an emergency. They should also have a well-stocked emergency kit with food, water, medication, and other essentials. Regular exercise and physical therapy can also help seniors maintain their mobility and reduce the risk of falls.
Staying Safe, Staying Mobile, Staying Home
A loss in mobility doesn’t have to mean losing your home. A structural remodel can give seniors the tools to live the lives they want with safety and agency. With thought and planning, a house can be remodeled to be a safe sanctuary that continues to provide all of the comforts of home.