According to a study by the AARP, 87 percent of adults over 65 want to stay in their communities and their current homes as they age, and almost three quarters of those age 50 to 64 feel the same way. Thing is, though, that most adults who want to age in place need to make some modifications to their homes, including (or especially) the exterior. So if you want to age in place, understand that you’ll have to take some concrete steps to create an exterior environment that will make that possible. And doing that means having clear and focused guidelines to help you develop a workable plan. Here are some suggestions for how to get started.
Lighting is crucial for making the exterior of your home safer and easier to navigate. Good lighting makes it easier to navigate walkways, and it also helps you view obstacles and reduce falls. How much lighting do you need? The more you have, the better. Here are some locations around your home where you might need lighting.
All Entrances and Exits
For safety and convenience, have lights installed by, near, or over all the doors of your home. This even includes those doors you don’t use very often. Though you likely have a door that you use most often, there might be times when it is more convenient for you to enter or exit through a different door. For the best in safety and convenience, as well as cost savings, these lights should come on automatically using sensors that are triggered by nightfall, movement or some other factor.
For your safety, each of the corners of your home needs to have lighting. Include lighting in other parts of your property as well, if security is a concern. For example, you might want to light the far end of your driveway so you can check your mailbox more easily and with more confidence that you’ll be able to see any threat in time.
Pathways and Sidewalks
Pathways and sidewalks that provide a level and smooth area for you to reach your home or vehicle need to be properly illuminated. This not only helps you see any debris or items in your way, but also ensures that you stay on the even pathway and sidewalks rather than straying accidentally into the yard or elsewhere.
As you install your lights, place them so that they shine downward rather than horizontally. This reduces shadows and makes it easier to spot tripping hazards. Make sure, too, that the lighting fixtures you choose are easy to change. If the fixture has clear glass, consider using frosted light bulbs instead of clear ones to reduce glare.
As we get older, our range of mobility tends to become more limited, and this is one of the key factors to plan for as you age in place. This limited range of motion can make steps particularly tricky, but there are several creative ways that you make steps less of a problem.
Install a Ramp
One solution is to remove the steps completely and replace them with a ramp, or leave the steps in place and simply build a ramp on top of them. If you decide to go this popular route, consider having the ramp build wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, just in case you end up using one at some point.
If installing a ramp looks like it could be too much of a hassle, consider using another door without steps to enter and exit the house. In addition, you can make sure that any exterior steps to your home are textured to help prevent slipping. Any bushes, trees and shrubs near the sidewalk should be maintained often and cut back so they don’t interfere with your ability to safely get up and down them.
Regardless of where your exterior steps are located, it’s imperative that they have railings on both ends of the stairs. In order to accommodate the aging of your grip, these railings should have a diameter of at least one-and-one half inches.
Don’t Forget the Lights
Well-lit steps are another must-have element for successful aging in place. Opt for more lights rather than fewer ones. You’ll be glad to have the additional illumination, especially in the winter months when it may gets dark more quickly than you anticipated.
The height difference between your porch or deck and the floor just inside the front door of your home could pose issues: such “surprise” steps up are a big falling hazard. If you have difficulty navigating any of the thresholds at the entrances to your home, have a skilled contractor modify it so it is one-half inch in height or lower.
You can also have the threshold modified so that it is flush with the floor. This can be done in one of two ways: either by raising the porch or replacing the doorframe with one that is lower. When creating a door threshold that is level with inside and outside surfaces, don’t forget to account for drainage: the last thing you want is rainwater flowing off your front porch and under your front door!
In addition to steps and thresholds, you should pay attention to a few more attributes of your home’s entryways. First of all, make sure that they have some type of cover, such as a canopy or an overhang, to provide you with protection from the sun, rain or other inclement weather. You don’t want to be in a rush, or fumbling with an umbrella, as you navigate your front steps or try to get into your house.
Make Entryways Non-Slip
Your entryway should be composed of a non-slip surface. This can either be low-profile strips that are applied over the top of the current material or a textured flooring material that replaces the old entryway. The entryway’s surface can also be scuffed to allow for a more gripping surface.
Increase Their Width
Remodel your doorways so they are at least 36 inches wide. This ensures that everyone — including those who use a cane, wheelchair or walker — will be able to easily enter and leave your home. This distance provides ample room for a standard wheelchair to pass through.
Creative Doorway Modifications
If you can’t widen a doorway, keep in mind that offset door hinges are designed to increase the width of a narrow door. If modifying your existing front door so that it accommodates a wheelchair, consider some creative solutions. One of your home’s windows can be turned into a doorway with a more generous width. Another idea is to tap into a small room or one that is not being used often and design it into a foyer that is able to accommodate your changing needs.
Make getting in and out of your home’s primary door safe and easy. While you can choose a back or side door as your main way of entering and exiting your home. a few creative modifications can make it easier to use the same door you’re familiar with. If the door is heavy, consider choosing one made of a different material. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because an exterior door is light and easy to use that it does not provide an adequate amount of security. Aluminum and fiberglass doors are lightweight, strong and reliable.
Replace your current door knob with a lever door handle. This type of door handle makes it easy to open the door without having to grasp and twist with your hands — movements that could become difficult and painful as you age. Another option is to switch to a keyless lock system. Working much like the keyless entry system for a vehicle, this type of lock system eliminates the need for you to twist a key in the lock before you can enter or leave your home.
Build in Convenience and Safety
Add shelves or seating beside the door to facilitate your entry or exit from your house while you are carrying packages. Such an addition provides you with a suitable place to put your belongings while you concentrate on opening the door. A built-in seat beside the door has the added bonus of providing you with a place to rest or find your key fob without tiring you out further or becoming unbalanced. If you are like many people, you unlock the door before pushing it open in one swift movement. Attempting to complete this sequence of events with your arms filled with packages could cause you to fall.
Sidewalks and Driveways
The sidewalk leading to your home as well as your driveway are often marked by cracks and uneven surfaces due to their exposure to the elements. These can make it easy for you to trip and fall — even during the daytime — as you age. Have it smoothed down to prevent a more even surface for wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility devices.
While foliage such as shrubs, trees and bushes can add to the beauty of your property, it’s important for them to be well maintained. If they become overgrown, they could create a fall hazard as you are trying to move along the sidewalk to or from your home. The installation of lighting along the sidewalk and the perimeters of the driveway will also help improve your visibility and make it less likely that you’ll fall.
As you age, it can become more difficult and time consuming to keep up with the daily chores and maintenance that is required to run a house. No place is this more evident than on the outside. For example, routine exterior maintenance such as repainting the exterior of your home or climbing a ladder to clean out the gutters becomes infinitely more dangerous as you age. Not only is your dexterity less refined, but your limited range of motion—plus our bodies’ gradual loss of strength as we get older—increases the risks of a fall from a ladder or from anything else.
Replace Exterior Materials
Replacing the material, such as wood siding, that you currently have on the exterior of your home with something that is low maintenance helps to reduce the amount of effort it takes for your home to stay in good repair. Unlike paint — which requires yearly or bi-yearly reapplication to ensure that it offers the same protective features as it did when it was new — brick or vinyl siding needs almost no maintenance to look great and protect the structural integrity of your home for years.
Decking materials that are made of resin provide the beautiful look of real wood. Best of all, though, these types of materials outlast wood by many years. Because they don’t require painting or sealing, they are virtually maintenance free. Resin-based materials are ideal for decks, stairs, porches and more.
Consider getting gutter covers for your guttering system. Doing so instantly reduces the need for routine gutter cleaning without compromising the integrity of your home. If you don’t clean your gutters regularly, debris can collect in them and cause water to be diverted down the side of your home, under the eaves or into the foundation; gutter covers eliminate this problem.
Chances are you spend at least some portion of your downtime maintaining the landscaping of your home. As part of a successful aging in place strategy, however, you need to consider a decrease in your mobility and balance that might affect your ability to effective maintain the grass cutting, shrubbery pruning and weed eating that normally comes from having a yard. Consider the following modifications instead:
Automatic Sprinkler System
An automatic sprinkler system — especially if you choose one that enables you to program a schedule of when and how long your yard is watered — can reduce the time and effort you spend watering your plants and grass.
Plants that require little in the way of water and maintenance can add beauty and greenery to your yard without creating more work for you. Xeriscape is the practice of using plants and other foliage that are native to your area and that thrive within the environment as the basis for your landscaping. Other options for a low-maintenance yard are drought-resistant plants like the blazing star, grey owl juniper or foam flower. When you are selecting plants for your yard, consult the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for advice and guidance on the best ones for your area.
How many hours do you think you spend maintaining your natural grass lawn by watering, fertilizing, cutting, weeding, aerating and mowing it? You can eliminate all that effort by replacing it with artificial grass. Synthetic turf comes in a variety of different types and requires almost no maintenance. At most, you’ll need to hose it down a few times a year to keep it looking lush, green and comfortable. Otherwise, you’ll be able to enjoy a vibrant yard with only a minimum of effort on your part.
Choosing a ground cover instead of allowing your yard to be covered in grass means that your maintenance requirements are almost non existent. Materials such as wood chips, mulch, gravel and bark not only protect the soil’s moisture levels, they can also almost eliminate the weeds in your yard. In addition to the improved visual appeal of such materials, your maintenance requirements will be relegated to pulling a few weeds or clearing away some stray leaves.
Dwarf plants are much like their full-sized counterparts except they are smaller in size when they mature. Not only does their reduced size make it easier for you to care for them, they are less likely to obstruct sidewalks and entryways.
Whether you love flowering plants or are an avid vegetable gardener, raised beds can make gardening easier on your body. Their raised height means that you can more easily reach them to weed the beds as well as gather the bounty of any harvest.
Outdoor lifts can help you traverse the steps of your home if your mobility is limited. For example, you may have no trouble walking but find that climbing stairs throws you off balance. A lift can also replace a wheelchair ramp in the event that one does not appeal to you. Look for an outdoor lift manufactured from materials that withstand the elements. You might also consider investing in a cover to keep dirt and debris off of the lift.
Vertical Platform Lift
Also sometimes called a porch lift, a vertical platform lift features enough room for a wheelchair or a scooter. It is an ideal method of entering your home if you are not able to move independently from your wheelchair. Because a vertical platform lift moves vertically, it tends to take up less space than a wheelchair ramp.
If you choose the right model, this type of lift can even make it possible to travel to the second floor of your home.
Incline Platform Lift
An incline platform lift can be useful for those people who have a difficult time transferring in and out of their scooter or wheelchair. Also known as a wheelchair lift, an incline platform lift features a platform that travels along the incline of your stairs via a rail installed in the staircase itself. Though they fold up when they aren’t being used, an incline platform lift is generally a better option for large staircases.
Outdoor Stair Lift
An outdoor stair lift might be a good option for you if you are able to walk effectively, but you have a difficult time going up and down stairs. By following the incline of the stair case, an outdoor stair lift is able to safely move you from the porch to the ground and back again.
As you can see, there are numerous modifications that you can have performed on the exterior of your home to make it safer for you to age in place. Getting creative with the solutions you consider when trying to meet your goal of aging in the home you love and know so well helps ensure that your quality of life is enhanced.
Adults Over 65 Who Want to Age in Place
Most adults who want to age in place need to make some modifications to their homes, including (or especially) the exterior.