Aging-in-Place: Tips for Making Homes Safer for Aging Parents

aging in place

Sean Kirkham grew up in the home building industry, watching his grandfather build custom homes. The time and detail his grandfather put into his strenuous work didn’t go unnoticed by the impressionable young man. But years later when his grandfather was fighting a battle with cancer, Sean felt the strain of watching his once-active loved one struggle to get around his own house while aging-in-place.

“Working in the industry, there’s a lot of wear and tear on your body,” Sean says. “Knee and hip replacements, and that sort of thing. But he was fine at home. It wasn’t until my grandfather’s diagnosis and getting further along in treatment that his muscles became weak. He just couldn’t get around the house very well.”

Sean’s mother Deborah stepped up to help her own mom, who was already struggling with Parkinson’s, take care of her ailing father. But Deborah and her son Sean were suddenly thrust into the unfamiliar world of caretaking.

“We felt so uninformed about it,” Sean says. He and the family started looking into possible solutions, evaluating whether the elderly duo would have to move out of their home to somewhere that’s easier to navigate with limited mobility.

“We’re all thinking we gotta do something, move them, or do something around the house because we’re worried sick about them injuring themselves,” he says. “But they weren’t ready to move to assisted living. They wanted to live in the home their children grew up and where they built their lives.”

Sean didn’t realize it at the time, but the idea for the company he and his mother founded together last year, Richardson-based Golden Years Renovations, was born.

“I installed some grab bars in the shower, a shower bench to make bathing safer, and some non-slip floor coatings for my grandparents,” Kirkham says.

But when his family spoke to their friends about the small updates they did around the house, they found a lot of people were in the same boat — interested in making their parents’ or their own homes safer to navigate, but unsure where to start or what to do.

“As favors, we did the same updates for neighbors and saw really positive feedback,” Kirkham says. That’s when Sean and Deborah saw there was a large need for this and a viable business opportunity in demand for the growing number of senior citizens looking to stay in their homes.

“You can call a general handyman, but there aren’t many focused on this specifically,” Kirkham says. “We thought there should be a business that specializes in these types of updates, by people who have experience installing all this.”

Golden Years Renovations LLC was launched and became an active member of the Dallas Builders Association, National Association of Home Builders, and Texas Association of Builders. They became certified as Aging-in-Place Specialists, a distinction offered by the National Association of Home Builders and AARP, which offers comprehensive worksheets and tips for modifying your home for safety.

A recent AARP study found 90 percent of people over age 65 want to stay in their homes for as long as they can, preferring not to sell their family home and move to a 55+ community.  

Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists help people evaluate their homes for safety and feasibility to age-in-place and make recommendations based on the individual’s physical mobility needs. The cost for home modifications can range from a couple hundred dollars for widening a doorway to several thousand dollars or more, for remodeling a bathroom.

“A lot of people don’t know about all the products available to modify your house to make it more comfortable and safe until you have a need for it,” Kirkham says, who offers free in-home consultations for aging-in-place.

Tips for Home Safety

Bathrooms

It’s one of the smallest rooms in the house but also the most dangerous. Bathrooms often pose the greatest fall hazard, especially while bathing, showering, and getting into and out of the tub. Using an anti-slip bath mat in the shower or tub is one inexpensive solution. Kirkham offers this great tip: “Put down a non-slip surface that doesn’t require bath mats that can flip up. It’s a coating that you spray down on hard surfaces.”

Additional common safety features include:

• Low-threshold and curbless showers (also known as roll-in showers)
• Grab bars
• Taller toilets
• Increased lighting
• Knee space under cabinets
• Walk-in bathtubs

Kitchen

Kitchens pose another significant hazard for the elderly. Kirkham shares these considerations when modifying your kitchen are:

• Creating additional room for maneuverability, especially if you are or may be confined to a wheelchair
• Installing non-slip flooring to prevent falls
• Increasing lighting
• Adjusting the height of cabinets and countertops, to limit reaching and grabbing
• Replacing appliances with front-controlled models, for safety and ease of use

Bedroom

Bedroom modifications for aging-in-place are more centered on making it easier to care for yourself. In some instances, it may be necessary to relocate the master bedroom downstairs, so you can enjoy single-story living in a two-story house.

“You shouldn’t be forced to sell your home if you have stairs, or your bedroom is located upstairs,” Kirkham says. “Moving the bedroom downstairs, or installing stair lifts are good options.”

Other safety considerations in the bedroom include:

  • Keeping pathways free from cables, shoes, and other small items that can trip you up
  • Removing unnecessary furniture from the bedroom to allow room for a walker or wheelchair
  • Securing dressers and other tall furniture that pose a tip hazard

Living Areas

Make sure common areas are as safe and accessible as possible, but also functional so you can maintain your social life and continue to entertain friends and family, Kirkham advises. This may mean adding square footage via an addition or opening up your floor plan to ensure living areas are maneuverable and easy to navigate.

Some other considerations:

  • Rearranging the area to remove potential fall hazards
  • Installing temporary grab bars in common seating areas
  • Remove extra thick rugs that may trip you up or impede use of a walker or wheelchair

“Often times, grab bars and inexpensive modifications can be the most cost-effective way to prevent a fall at home,” Kirkham says.

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