What is Aging in Place Remodeling and Why Are Exterior Modifications Important?
The concept of ‘aging in place remodeling’ refers to the intentional modification or renovation of a home to make it more suitable and accessible for individuals to live comfortably and safely in their environment as they age. Aging in place remodeling promotes independence while acknowledging the need for suitable and supportive living spaces that accommodate the needs of aging adults who desire to live at home. The goal of aging in place remodeling is to enable older adults to remain in their own homes and communities, even as they experience physical or cognitive changes associated with aging.
Aging in place remodeling is based on the idea that most people prefer to remain in familiar surroundings as they grow older rather than moving into assisted living or nursing facilities. While the interior compartments of living space are obvious areas to focus on for modification remodeling, identifying exterior elements that enhance the overall safety of an older-adult-friendly home is also important.
By making specific modifications to the often overlooked exterior areas of a home, aging in place remodeling aims to address potential barriers and challenges that an older individual may face, allowing them to maintain their independence, dignity, quality of life, and overall sense of well-being.
Five Exterior Modification Considerations for Aging in Place Remodeling
Mailbox and Delivery Areas
Mailbox and delivery areas for older adults can be made safer and more accessible with simple modifications, using technology, and eliminating hazards ultimately promoting one’s independence and reducing the risk of accidents or discomfort while retrieving their mail.
Several changes that can be made include:
- Installing mailboxes at an appropriate height and at a location an individual can easily – and if possible from a sitting position for those who have difficulty standing – allows access without bending or stretching reducing undue strain on the back and legs.
- Ensuring that the path to the mailbox is free of obstacles, debris, and tripping hazards.
- Installing easy-to-grasp handles or knobs on mailbox doors for those with limited dexterity.
- Using high-contrast colors, reflective tape, and choosing mailboxes with large, easy-to-read labels and numbers to help individuals with visual impairments locate the mailbox more easily.
- Providing shelter or a covered area near the mailbox to protect individuals from rain, snow, and extreme weather conditions while retrieving mail.
- Setting up video doorbell systems that allow older adults to see and communicate with delivery personnel from their smartphones or tablets.
- Utilizing delivery tracking apps in which older adults can receive notifications when packages are delivered and where the package was left.
- Using assistive technology apps designed for older adults that offer simplified interfaces, voice commands, and larger text for tracking and managing deliveries.
Reconsidering Doorknobs and Gate Handles
Older adults may face difficulties dealing with traditional doorknobs and gate handles due to age-related changes in physical abilities and limitations. Such conditions as weakened grip strength, arthritis, decreased dexterity, cognitive challenges, loss of sensation, etc. can interfere with a person’s ability to grip, pull, twist, or turn a traditional doorknob or gate handle.
Considering these difficulties, opting for accessible alternatives can greatly improve one’s ability to safely and effectively maneuver in and out of closed doors or gateways.
There are many user-friendly doorknob and gate handle alternative options to consider:
- Lever handles, which require less dexterity and strength compared to traditional doorknobs, can be operated using a simple downward or upward motion making them ideal for individuals with arthritis or limited hand mobility.
- Loop handles are large, rounded handles – often used for gates or doors that require pulling or pushing motions – can be easily gripped and pulled for individuals with weak or arthritic hands.
- Push/pull handles, which are simple to use and require minimal hand strength, are horizontal bars that can be pushed or pulled to operate a door or gate.
- Offset handles are designed to extend away from the door or gate, allowing individuals with limited hand mobility to easily grip and reduce bending the wrist.
- Knob grips and covers can be added over existing traditional style round doorknobs to provide a larger, more ergonomic gripping surface.
- Electronic locks and touchpad entry systems eliminate the need for physical keys or handles altogether by using a PIN code to unlock doors or gates.
- Voice-activated locks allow older adults to control door access using voice commands, making it convenient for those with mobility or dexterity challenges.
The Necessity of Smooth, Even Surfaces, and Anti-Slip Technology
Smooth, even surfaces, and anti-slip technology can make a significant difference in creating a safer home exterior for older adults. Filling in and leveling uneven surfaces, cracks, and gaps in walkways/pathways can reduce tripping hazards. Having a stable walking surface with minimal changes in elevation provides a stable platform for older adults to walk on. In addition, smooth, even surfaces are easier for mobility aids such as walkers, canes, and wheelchairs to navigate.
Creating a safe home exterior for older adults involves a combination of design, materials selection, and technology integration. Anti-slip technology, such as textured surfaces or coating, enhances traction on outdoor pathways, steps, and ramps. This technology helps prevent slips, especially in wet or icy conditions. Adding gentle slopes and ramps with anti-slip surfaces provides a gradual transition between different levels of the outdoor space, thus eliminating the need to navigate steep stairs, which can be a challenge for older adults.
Deciding where to focus modifications is influenced by a person’s usage and priority. Is there space and a desire for an outdoor patio or deck area? Is someone more in need of an improved driveway/walkway or front entrance access? Asking specific questions allows one to target what materials and technologies are best suited and designed accordingly.
Outdoor Lighting Solutions
Outdoor lighting is a crucial element in ensuring safety and enhancing the usability of outdoor spaces, especially for aging in place modifications. When planning outdoor lighting consider a variety of different types of lighting, including ambient, task, and accent lighting, to create a balanced and functional lighting scheme. Incorporate lighting controls, such as dimmers or timers, or opt for fixtures with adjustable brightness levels to accommodate varying lighting needs and preferences.
Strategically placed outdoor lighting, such as at points of entry (i.e. doors/gates) allows older adults to safely enter/exit their homes without fumbling or tripping. Properly placed outdoor lighting allows for better visibility and navigation to help older adults more clearly see pathways, steps, ramps, and other potential obstacles. This reduces the risk of tripping and falling, especially during nighttime or low-light conditions.
Illuminating or well-placed fixtures along walkways or outdoor stairs allow individuals to see each step and change in elevation. Purposefully placed light sensors around the home, triggered by movement, provide a sense of security as well as illumination for individuals if they arrive after dark and no lights have been manually activated.
The use of outdoor lighting can create the aesthetic appeal of one’s home exterior and extend the usability of gardens and outdoor spaces by allowing older adults to enjoy their surroundings even at night. Adequate lighting also enables older adults to engage in outdoor activities, social gatherings, and entertaining activities in the evening. Having an opportunity to actively use one’s home environment can give an individual a sense of belonging and pride.
Incorporating Security Cameras
When designing an aging in place remodel, security cameras can play a significant role in enhancing safety and providing peace of mind for both the older adults themselves and for their caregivers and family members.
Prior to deciding on a camera installation, there are some things to consider such as where will it be used:
- for monitoring remote areas of the home (i.e., entryways, driveways, outdoor spaces), helping them identify visitors, deliveries, or unusual activity;
- as a deterrence to reduce the likelihood of break-ins or other security threats;
- for visitor identification to help older adults identify visitors before answering the door;
- for viewing capabilities through smartphone apps or web interfaces to have real-time notifications about any detected motion or activity, even when they’re not home?
Security cameras can do the following:
- Remotely monitor older adults through security cameras, ensuring they are safe and well – especially when the older adult lives alone.
- In cases of emergency, security cameras can provide visual confirmation of the situation to assist emergency responders in how to appropriately respond.
- Some advanced security cameras with AI technology can detect falls or unusual movements to alert caregivers or family members to potential emergencies.
- If a security alarm is triggered, cameras can provide video verification, allowing monitoring services or family members to verify whether the alarm is a false alarm or a genuine security threat.
- Some security cameras offer two-way audio communication, allowing caregivers or family members to remind older adults about taking medications or following daily routines.
To make security cameras more user-friendly for older adults, consider their needs and preferences that:
- Use large icons and text on the camera’s interface or app to accommodate older adults with visual impairments;
- Provide pre-set one-touch buttons for common actions such as viewing live footage, checking notifications, or adjusting settings;
- Avoid clutter and use clear icons or text to guide older adults through the camera setting and features;
- Implement voice-activated controls that allow older adults to interact with the camera using voice commands;
- Offer responsive customer support to assist with troubleshooting, setup, and any questions;
- Provide video tutorials that guide users through setting up and using the camera;
- Include remote assistance that incorporates a feature that allows family members or caregivers to remotely assist with camera setup and troubleshooting;
- And many more….
Planning an Aging in Place Exterior Remodel
Thorough planning is crucial for the success of an aging in place remodeling project. Taking the time to develop a plan helps ensure that the modifications made to the exterior part of the home are well-suited to the specific needs of the individual. UDS consultants are available to assist in the design of a plan that effectively addresses potential challenges associated with older adults and targets what modifications are essential for an individual’s safety, accessibility, and needs.
Things to Consider to Maximize the Process
By taking the time to plan and address all relevant factors, an aging in place remodeling project is more likely to succeed in providing a safe, comfortable, and accessible home for the individual. Some things to consider include:
- Identifying specific needs of the individual’s current and potential future needs.
- Ensuring that all modifications adhere to local building codes and accessibility standards established by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- Choosing materials that are safe, durable, and aesthetically pleasing to the homeowner’s personal preferences.
- Researching and selecting reputable contractors or professionals with experience in aging in place remodeling to ensure successful execution of the project.
Modify Your Aging in Place Home with UDS
Aging in place remodeling is an important element in promoting independence and maintaining a sense of autonomy as one grows older.
UDS offers Accessible Home Modifications and provides expert service to help individuals in every step of the aging at home remodeling process from assessing needs, providing cost estimates, finding a contractor, and being available to answer questions along the way.
For more information please contact UDS and fill out your information to learn more about our services.
The UDS team is one of the leading human service providers in Pennsylvania. If you’re in Lancaster, PA, or counties surrounding the South Central PA areas, we are here to help you!