I recently had a family member suffer a terrible fall. They ended up with a broken arm and a broken leg. Suddenly, we were re-organizing our lives because now we had a family member in a wheelchair who needed almost full-time care. It’s something we all hope will never happen but it’s something that we all will face in one way or another. Whether or not you have a loved one who’s disabled, we all will face illness, suffering, and old age at some point. It’s important that when those times pop up, our homes are able to meet our needs. What would you do if you had to have a family member in a wheelchair for a month? Would they be able to get around your house? Today for Inside Design, I discussed accessibility and aging in place with Julie Lampe of Paradigm Interiors in Orlando, Florida.
With a Masters in Nursing and a disabled daughter, Julie has always had a mind for the health and well-being of others. When it comes to Interior Design, Julie is passionate about designing with the future in mind. While a client may be working with Julie to add furniture and window treatments to a new home, Julie is thinking about the future health issues that may come up and how they can best prepare now for the aging process.
You may think that home improvements for aging in place is just for those of retirement age. But measuring your home’s accessibility isn’t just for Baby Boomers. We all need to think about those moments where we may break a leg skiing or have to take in and care for a loved one who isn’t very mobile. So what are the top home improvements you can make now to make your home more accessible?
Top Home Improvements to Make for Accessibility and Aging in Place
Focus on updating the Kitchen, Bedroom, and Bathroom
The main areas that Julie recommends focusing on is the Kitchen, Bedroom, and Bathroom. You don’t have to make your whole home accessible, unless you are renovating or building a home where you intend to age in place. The Kitchen, Bedroom, and Bathroom are where all are crucial human needs are met. If you can focus on just these three areas of the home, then if something should happen to you or a family member you’ll be better prepared to deal with their well-being and care.
Replace fiberglass shower/tub units
Most homes come with a fiberglass tub/shower unit in one or more of their bathrooms. I myself have spent the last 3 years replacing these for numerous clients. For someone who has less mobility, it’s easier to have a walk-in shower than a tub with a high lip to step over. The bonus is that right now walk-in showers with tile and glass doors are on trend. So if you renovate your Master Bathroom, this will be a huge update that will help get you a return on your investment!
Add mosaic tile (1″x 1″) to bathroom floors
While you’re renovating that Master Bathroom, be sure to re-do the floor. Julie told me that the best floor for wet areas is a small 1″ x 1″ mosaic tile. This will increase the number of grout lines and add traction to reduce the risk of falls. If you’re looking for another alternative, Julie recommends a porcelain tile over ceramic and she says to make sure to get something that’s not polished. No sheen equals more grip.
Upgrade important doorways to 36″ wide
Most homes are not wheelchair-friendly. A lot of us have learned this the hard way – taking off trim or scratching up walls as we try to maneuver around corners and go through doorways. One major improvement you can make to your home is upgrading your door openings to 36″ wide. This will make your life much easier should you or a loved one ever need a wheelchair. Consider the fact that most temporary wheelchairs (the ones you buy at the local drug store or Walgreens) have a wheelbase of 36″ wide, so you may need to go wider with your doors depending on what type of chair your loved one uses.
You’ll want to think about upgrading all the doors connecting your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom areas. And while you’re at it, think about your path of travel between those rooms and turning corners with a wheelchair too!
Update plumbing fixtures
Julie told me that a common aging problem is degenerative joint disease. This means joint pain in the hands, neck, lower back, knees, or hips. So for someone who is aging in place you need to consider the plumbing fixtures they use everyday. This could mean updating to a toilet with a higher seat or replacing a faucet with one that has lever handles instead of knobs.
Update door and cabinet hardware
You’ll also want to consider what items you or your loved one will use daily. Will they need to open cabinets? Doors? If so, you can replace door knobs with levers which makes it easier for someone with arthritis or joint pain to open. Also, make sure that cabinet hardware in the Kitchen and Bath is easy to grip and pull open.
One of the last things Julie recommends is thinking about the accessibility of your furniture – most notably your sofa. You’ll want a sofa with a higher seat (Julie recommends a 19″ seat height) to make it easier for someone to get up and down off the couch. Consider firm cushions and quality manufacturing so you don’t end up with cushions or a sofa that sags and gives out.
Work with a Designer
There is a certification Designers can get for Aging in Place so if you are designing or remodeling a house for that reason you may want to look for a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist. At the very least, Julie and I both recommend working with a designer over a furniture manufacturer or showroom. Why? Because most of the time those places are trying to move product. They want to sell you their merchandise. They aren’t really concerned with what you want or what you need, just what they can get you to buy. It sounds harsh and not all showrooms are this way. But as Designers, we are there to be your advocate. We focus on what you need and champion for that. We are the person who steps in to make sure that your home meets your needs. That’s why you should at the very least consult a designer, if not work with one entirely for your project.
Why is accessibility and aging in place so important? I saw this with my grandparents and I’ve seen this with friends whose disabilities have taken over their lives. As you lose your independence – your ability to do for yourself – it can be quite disheartening. It’s easy to get depressed being unable to do even simple tasks. So making small improvements in your home to allow someone who is disabled or aging to get around better will do a lot to boost their confidence, well-being, and self-esteem. If you’re in your retirement home now, you can start making these small improvements in your home to help you age in place and enjoy your life more fully!
What about you? What improvements would you add to this list for a more accessible home design?
Julie Lampe is the owner and Principal Designer of Paradigm Interiors in Orlando, FL. With a background in Nursing, she helps many clients renovate homes to accommodate their current and future lifestyle. She believes your home should be a reflection of you and your family.
Thank you Julie for sharing your wisdom and time with us!
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