Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place Part 1: The Entrance
Living independently in your own home for as long as you can is important to many aging Americans.
But not all homes are suitable for individuals with physical limitations or disabilities. A key to aging in place and living independently is making sure your home can accommodate your needs, as well as those of anyone in the house with you.
This guide is meant to help you think about what the entrance to your home may need as you and your loved ones age to keep it safe and accessible.
Areas to focus on:
Stairs — or even a single step — can be the biggest barrier to entry in a home as you age. A home with many steps may not be suitable for aging in place.
Here are some things to ask yourself if you have to navigate a stairway:
- Are the stairs completely stable — with no loose boards or railings?
- Do you have non-slip or textured treads on the stairs?
- Can you clearly see the edge of each steps? If not, consider adding reflective tape or paint to the edges.
- Is there a railing on both sides? Most of the time, one railing isn’t enough. This is because people are often stronger on one side of their body. If that’s the case for you, having just one railing means you’ll only be able to use your strong side when entering or exiting the home — but not both.
- Are the railings close enough that you can use them both at the same time?
- If your staircase can’t/doesn’t have a railing on both sides, do you have a sturdy cane that can help you on the non-railing side?
- Do the railings go to all the way to flat ground?
- Even with modifications, can your loved ones/visitors navigate the stairway? It’s important to keep in mind that a home shouldn’t just be accessible to yourself, but also to those who are going to be living/visiting with you.
- Even with modifications, could you navigate the stairway if you were to become seriously injured? Creating an accessible entryway to your home isn’t just critical for those who are 80-plus; it can be critical for those in their 50s as well. Let’s say you’re 52 and sustain a serious leg injury that renders you unable to bear weight on one foot. Ask yourself, could you still navigate your staircase?
- Do you have enough upper-body strength to use stairs? If not, you may have to consider installing a ramp or an outdoor stair lift.
If you use a wheelchair, have difficulty walking or lack the strength to use stairs, installing a ramp may be the best option for you.
Some questions to ask yourself when considering a ramp:
- Do you have the space for it? Typically, it’s required that you have a foot of ramp for every inch of elevation change. This is to ensure that the ramp isn’t too steep.
- Can you ascend and descend the ramp comfortably? Some people only consider if they can go up the ramp. But going down is just as important. To some, especially those in wheelchairs, even descending a minor slope can be daunting. Wheelchairs can pick up speed very quickly.
- Do you want to install the ramp permanently? Temporary ramps are an option.
Typically, medical suppliers can either install the ramps for you or point you to someone who can.
Consider entrances other than the front door
Sometimes the front door isn’t the most ideal entrance to your home. If you have physical limitations or a disability, you may want to select a different entryway to be your primary access point to the home.
It could be a backdoor or a door that enters through the garage. A home accessibility expert, like those at Friends Life Care can perform an evaluation of your home to help you determine the easiest and safest entryway.
Inspect all surfaces
Staircases, driveways, sidewalks and other walkways need to be stable, clear of debris and trip hazards, and non-slip.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Is any cement chipping up?
- Are there any loose bricks/boards/rocks?
- Does any surface become slick when wet?
- Are all surfaces even?
- Are there any trip hazards — like hoses, overgrown plants, loose stones, electrical cords or clutter?
One thing a lot of people tend to overlook is how visible their house numbers are from the street. Simply having them on your mailbox isn’t good enough.
In the event of an emergency, you don’t want emergency responders searching for your home. Make it as easy as possible for them to find your address.
What’s the best solution? Purchase large, reflective, numbered stickers. They can be found in just about any hardware store. Put them over your front door and, preferably, at least one other place on the home where they’re highly visible from the street.
An alarm system
Even if you feel you live in a safe neighborhood, it’s a good idea to install an alarm system. It can not only keep predators out, but also loved ones in.
For example, an alarm system — with sensors on doors and windows — can alert you when a loved one suffering from dementia gets confused and tries to walk out of the home.
A large awning
No matter which door you select as your primary entryway, it’s a good idea to make sure it has a large awning over it.
These are especially useful during the chilly winter months. When the temperatures drop, areas subject to rain or snow are at high risk of turning to ice. An awning can protect your entryway from these elements, therefore eliminating the risk of moisture freezing over right outside your door. It can also help you see when your walkway has become icy — by helping you spot the contrast in the dry area under the awning and the icy area a few feet away.
Install good lights at all entryways (preferably motion-activated) to make sure visibility isn’t a problem. In addition, make sure all walkways and staircases are well lighted.
Inexpensive solar lights (available at most hardware stores) can help keep a walkway lit without much installation headache — and no electrical costs!
A helpful checklist
Here’s a helpful list of other questions you’ll want to answer about your entryway:
- Are your doorways at least 36 inches wide? This can help accommodate wheelchairs and walkers.
- Do you have a bench or table just outside or inside your primary doorway? This can give you a place to set bags and groceries down so you’re not juggling them while trying to unlock the front door.
- Does your door have a peephole in it? This can help you identify visitors to your home.
- Does your door have a slide latch or chain? This can allow you to speak with someone outside the door without having to fully unlock/open it.
- Are your mats and rugs secured to the floor? Make sure any mats or rugs you use don’t become trip hazards. They should have non-slip grips and no corners sticking up.
- Are the steps inside your home non-slip? Are they textured or have secure carpeting?
- Do you have secure handrails on the steps inside your home? Preferably, you should have a handrail on both sides of every staircase.
- Do you have a bag of salt by your door? Spreading salt in the winter can help prevent ice from building up outside your door and becoming a slip-and-fall hazard.
A big “thank-you” to Lauren Young Lapin, MS, OTR-L, CAPS for helping to prepare this information. Lapin is a Wellness Coordinator & Home Accessibility Specialist with Friends Life Care. She’s a licensed Occupational Therapist, and she has special credentials as a Certified Aging in Place Specialist, from the National Association of Home Builders (CAPS certified). She has extensive experience in cognitive assessment and home modification/accessibility.
Friends Life Care can provide home accessibility evaluations free to its members. It can also provide them to the general public in some areas of the Delaware Valley for a small fee.
Contact Friends Life Care for more information — and stay tuned for the next part in our series: Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place.