Can a home be remodeled to be comfortable, but safe for seniors?

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Q: I want to remodel my elderly mother's home to make it safe for her to live in as she ages. But I don't want it to look or feel like a hospital or nursing home. How can I make her home comfortable, while also ensuring her safety?

A: Seniors will tell you that one of the most alienating aspects of moving to a facility is the loss of a personal "sense of place", that is the collection of familiar furnishings, colors, textures and surroundings that hold years of personal memories and help give meaning to day-to-day life. One of the big advantages of aging in place is that the meaningful surroundings that are an integral part of one's life are maintained.

Products that allow seniors to handle everyday living without the need for assistance are also being designed to look less clinical and not require a permanent installation. With the right independent living products, seniors maintain an independent and safe lifestyle while you feel less burdened and your house retains its normal appearance.

A few ideas to make the home safer, while still being stylish:

  • Stepless entries make it easier and safer to gain access, whether the person is in a wheelchair or using a walker or cane.
  • A kitchen with mostly undercounter cabinets helps someone short and frail avoid having to step on a stool to reach high cabinets.
  • Lighting along a hallway floor can provide a clear path to a bathroom in the dead of night when eyesight is failing.
  • Curbless showers with a bench allow someone to roll a wheelchair in and bathe.

In your mother's case, make sure that her house remains her "home" as you develop the remodeling plans. That means the design modifications you do should be subtly added so that her home does not feel radically different to her after the modifications are complete.

Instead, aim for a personal and comforting environment that eases accomplishing the activities of daily living. Respecting your mother's taste and aesthetic preferences is easily accomplished by careful planning, even as the functional requirements are modified. Functional accommodation emphatically does not mean an institutional look and feel.

For a room-by-room plan for making the home safer, click here.


Alan Kanter, AIA, is a certified Aging in Place specialist, working in home design and modifications for aging. Read his full biography

Alan Kanter, A.I.A., specializes in home design and modifications for aging. Certified as an Aging in Place Specialist by the National Association of Home Builders, he helps elders live at home independently in surroundings that are safe, healthful, and environmentally responsible.

View full profile

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