I. Planning for a Home Remodeling Project

The first step in making a home safer and more accessible is to identify problem areas and think about ways to make it easier for you to use them. If you’re concerned about your safety, you may want to start with the most hazardous rooms and continue remodeling from there. According to the United Disability Services Foundation, the bathroom is the most common site of injuries sustained at home. The kitchen also contains many potential hazards, including slippery floors and plumbing lines.

Once you know where you want to begin, think about how much you can afford to spend. If you have a limited budget, you may want to focus on critical safety issues first and address smaller problems later.

Many seniors can benefit from consulting a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS). A CAPS understands the unique needs of older adults and has the knowledge and expertise needed to suggest appropriate home modifications. Find a CAPS in your area by visiting the National Association of Home Builders website.

II. Modifications to Entryways and Exits

Before you turn your attention to the inside of your home, assess your entryways and exits to make sure they’re as safe and accessible as possible. In the United States, seniors experience 36 million falls each year — or one every second. Some of these falls occur due to hazards on porches, exterior steps, decks and driveways.

For seniors with older homes, entryways and exits may also be too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers and other medical equipment. Hazardous entryways and exits may even discourage family members from visiting, leaving seniors more vulnerable to social isolation.

Here are some of the most common safety and accessibility issues in entryways and exits, along with tips on how to eliminate them.

Potential Hazard

Why It Can Be Dangerous

Recommended Modifications

Entryway 

– Poor lighting increases the risk of falls when entering or exiting a home.

– Add lanterns, sconces or other types of lights above outdoor steps.

– Install motion-activated lights, so lights come on automatically.

– Replace bad bulbs immediately.

Stairs

– Slippery stairs increase the risk of falls.

– Stairs may have loose railings.

– Chipped concrete and other defects create tripping hazards.

– Seniors with mobility issues may have difficulty using stairs.

– Ask a loved one or hire someone to clean snow and ice from outdoor steps in the winter.

– Have a professional repair or replace broken handrails.

– Hire a mason to repair or replace worn-out stairs.

– Consider hiring a professional to add a ramp to the home.

Driveways

– Cracks in concrete or blacktop create a tripping hazard.

– Uneven surfaces increase the risk of falls.

– Loose stone and gravel may become slippery when wet.

– It can be difficult for seniors with disabilities to maintain their balance on stone, gravel and other materials that shift with movement.

– Hire a professional to fill cracks in concrete or paved driveways.

– Consider having the driveway graded and paved to make the surface even.

– Replace loose stone and gravel with other materials.

Doorways

– Doorways in older homes may be too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs.

– If the door sticks, it may require extra force to open or close it, increasing the risk of falls.

– Throw rugs in entryways increase the risk of trip-and-fall accidents.

– If there’s a step up from the landing to the doorway, it can be difficult for a senior with balance issues to take that step.

– Hire a professional to widen each doorway.

– If necessary, hire someone to trim the door panel, so it fits better in the frame. This can prevent doors from sticking.

– In some cases, doors stick due to problems with the structure of a home. If this is the case with your home, consult a foundation repair specialist.

– Remove throw rugs and other tripping hazards from the entryway.

– Install a threshold ramp to eliminate the need to step up from the landing and into your home.

Porches

– If a porch landing is too small, it may be difficult for a senior to open the door without falling.

– Some porches have no handrails.

– Porches made of wood may rot over time.

– Damaged support beams increase the risk of a porch collapse.

– Hire someone to make the landing large enough to move around safely.

– Install handrails on both sides of the steps leading to the porch. If there aren’t any safety rails around the porch itself, add some.

– Have your wooden porch inspected to determine if any of the wood needs to be replaced or treated.

– Have a professional inspect your porch’s support beams and repair or replace them if necessary.

III. Landscaping Modifications

Spending time outdoors has many benefits for seniors, including lower stress levels, more opportunities for physical activity and the potential for increased vitamin D levels. Unfortunately, accessibility issues sometimes prevent seniors with disabilities from getting outdoors as often as they’d like.

If accessibility issues have been preventing you from enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, here are some suggestions for updating patios, gardens and other outdoor areas.

Possible Hazard/Accessibility Issue

Recommended Modifications

Walkways

– Uneven walkways increase the risk for falls and make it difficult for seniors to use mobility devices safely.

– Narrow walkways prevent seniors with wheelchairs from enjoying outdoor spaces.

– Choose hardscaping materials that are compatible with wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Poured concrete with fly ash and crushed quarry rock are good options.

– Make paths wide enough for safe wheelchair access. If you use an oxygen tank or any other medical equipment, be sure to account for these items when determining the ideal width of each path.

Lighting

– Poor light can make it difficult to navigate outdoor spaces, especially if you use a mobility aid.

– Add solar lights around walkways and other outdoor spaces.

– If your neighborhood association doesn’t have rules against it, consider adding decorative lights to trees in your garden.

– Install sconces or lanterns on the side of your home closest to the patio or garden.

Ramps

– Steps prevent some seniors from accessing outdoor areas safely.

– If an outdoor space has multiple surfaces, it can be difficult to transition from one surface to another if the surfaces are at different heights.

– Hire a professional to install a permanent ramp to your deck or patio.

– If a permanent ramp isn’t feasible, consider purchasing a portable ramp and asking a family member to set it up outside.

Rails

– Some outdoor spaces lack railings, increasing the risk of falls for seniors with balance problems or disabilities that affect their coordination.

– Hire a professional to add a railing around your deck or patio.

– Consider adding metal railings along walkways, so you have something to hold as you walk through your garden or patio area.

IV. Flooring Modifications

According to the AGS Health in Aging Foundation, about 40% of all seniors have problems with their balance. For some seniors, these problems are severe enough to require assistance with walking. Flooring modifications are especially important for seniors with balance problems, as they can eliminate serious slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall hazards.

The table below lists some of the most common flooring-related hazards and offers tips for eliminating them.

Type of Flooring

Potential Hazard/Accessibility Issue

Recommended Modifications

Carpeting

– The floor of one room may be higher than the floor in another room, causing seniors to stumble or making it difficult to make the transition with a wheelchair or walker.

– Loose carpeting creates a tripping hazard and makes it difficult to use wheelchairs and walkers safely.

– If a carpet is torn, a senior’s foot can get stuck in the tear, resulting in a fall. Walkers and canes can also get stuck in carpet tears.

– Carpets with curled edges create a tripping hazard and interfere with the use of canes, walkers and other mobility aids.

– Have a professional install a pre-made transition to eliminate the height difference from one section of flooring to another.

– If the carpet is torn, it may need to be replaced to reduce the risk of falls.

– Add strips of traction tape to the bottom of the carpet to keep edges from curling upward.

– Replace the tack strips to secure loose carpeting to the floor.

Tile

– Tile may become slippery when wet, causing seniors to fall.

– Cracked or chipped tile can cause seniors with poor balance to trip or stumble.

– Loose tile creates a tripping hazard.

– Consider adding anti-slip treads to tile floors.

– Replace cracked and chipped tiles.

– Replace loose tiles.

– If there’s widespread damage, consider replacing the flooring.

Area Rugs

– Area rugs without proper backing materials may bunch up, causing a senior to trip and fall.

– Area rugs may have curled edges that make it difficult to transition from the rug to another flooring surface.

– If an area rug doesn’t have an anti-slip backing, replace it with one that does.

– Use traction tape to secure the edges of each area rug.

Concrete

– Chips, cracks or holes in concrete may cause a senior to twist an ankle or trip and fall.

– Treated concrete floors may be slippery.

– Hire a professional to repair damaged concrete flooring.

– Ask your home repair professional if it’s possible to coat your concrete flooring. Using a sealer with grit additives may make concrete less slippery.

V. Modifications to Improve Bathroom Accessibility

In many cases, the bathroom is one of the smallest rooms in the home, making it difficult for seniors to navigate. Bathroom floors also tend to be slippery due to the accumulation of water and the use of products that leave residue on hard surfaces. These hazards increase the risk for falls while toileting, bathing and performing personal hygiene tasks.

Here are some recommended modifications to help make your bathroom safer and more accessible.

Potential Danger/Accessibility Issue

Recommended Modifications

Tubs and showers

– Wet showers and tubs are slippery, increasing the risk for slip-and-fall accidents.

– It can be difficult for seniors with mobility problems to lift themselves out of the tub or step into and out of the shower.

– It can be difficult for seniors with muscle and joint problems to reach up and adjust wall-mounted showerheads.

– Add non-slip strips or dots to the bottom of the shower or tub to reduce the risk of falls.

– Install grab bars in the shower enclosure. Make sure they’re properly secured.

– Install a handheld showerhead, shower seats and tub slide benches for ease of access.

Poor lighting

Poor lighting makes it difficult to see potential hazards, especially at night.

– Hire an electrician to add recessed lights to the shower.

– Add wall sconces on either side of your bathroom mirror.

– Replace your current bulbs with “daylight” or “bright white” bulbs.

– Add night lights to make it easier to see when it’s dark.

– If you have heavy drapes over the bathroom window, consider adding white blinds with sheer curtains to allow more natural light to enter the space.

Toilets

– It can be difficult for seniors with joint problems, muscle weakness and physical disabilities to sit down or get up from a low toilet.

– Install a raised toilet, seat or 3-in-1 commode to ease the motion of sitting down and standing up when using the bathroom.

– Install grab bars near the toilet to help you maintain your balance as you get up and down.

Flooring

– Tile floors can be slippery, especially after a bath or shower.

– If there’s a height difference between the bathroom floor and the floor in the hallway or bedroom, it can be difficult to get a wheelchair, cane or walker over the threshold.

– Add non-slip mats to the bathroom floor to prevent falls.

– Have a professional install non-slip flooring tiles.

– Install a threshold ramp at the entrance to the bathroom.

VI. Making Kitchens More Accessible

For seniors with disabilities, it can be difficult to prepare meals due to accessibility issues in the kitchen. High countertops, narrow pantry doors, high cabinet shelves and stoves with knobs that require hand strength to twist are just a few of the potential barriers to using a kitchen safely. The table below lists some of the most common trouble spots and offers tips for increasing accessibility.

Potential Danger/Accessibility Issue

Recommended Modifications

Cabinets

– Low cabinets can be difficult to reach if you use a wheelchair or can’t bend over far enough due to balance problems, back pain and other physical problems.

– High cabinets are also difficult to use, as you may not be able to reach items on the second or third shelves. If you have balance problems, you may not be able to use a step stool safely, keeping many items out of your reach.

– Lazy Susan cabinets can be difficult to access if you don’t have the strength to push them open or rotate them to reach the item you need.

– It can be difficult to open cabinets with latches, especially if you have arthritis or another condition that prevents you from working with complicated mechanisms.

– Have a professional install pull-down shelves to make the items in your kitchen cabinets more accessible.

– Organize your kitchen so that items you use frequently are within easy reach. Holiday serving platters and kitchen utensils you use once or twice per year can be kept on the shelves that are more difficult to access.

– If you can reach the lower shelves but not the upper ones, install dividers to give you more storage space at the lowest level of each cabinet. This can help you avoid having to reach for items.

– Have a professional lower the cabinets to make them more accessible.

– Add looped cabinet pulls to each cabinet, so you don’t have to turn knobs or undo latches.

Stove

– Seniors with arthritis and other conditions affecting the joints and muscles may have difficulty turning the knobs on a stove.

– If you use a wheelchair, it can be difficult to move food around in a pan or see when water comes to a boil in a pot.

– Many ovens have doors that open from the front, making it difficult for seniors with wheelchairs to use them.

– Look for appliances with lower heights. Easterseals Crossroads Assistive Technology Center recommends that appliance surfaces should be no higher than 31 inches from the floor.

– Install an oven with touch controls, rather than knobs that are difficult to turn.

– Attach a mirror near the stove and angle it, so you can keep an eye on your food as it cooks.

– Install an oven with a door that opens from the side.

– Consider installing a separate oven and cooktop, so you don’t have to worry about reaching up to use your stove burners.

Pantry

– Narrow doors make it difficult to access food and other items if you use a wheelchair or walker.

– Pantry shelves may be unreachable for seniors who use wheelchairs or have difficulty stretching to reach items.

– If the pantry door opens toward you, it can be difficult to open the door while using a wheelchair.

– Have a professional replace your current pantry door with one that’s wide enough to accommodate assistive devices.

– Install hooks, hanging baskets and other items to avoid having to use shelves that are out of reach.

– Install a sliding door, so you don’t have to pull the door toward you to access the pantry.

Electrical Outlets

– Kitchen outlets are often at the back of the counter, making it difficult to reach them if you use a wheelchair or have a mobility issue that prevents you from leaning forward and stretching your arms.

– Have an electrician install outlets low enough for you to reach them without stretching.

Lighting

– Poor lighting makes it difficult to see measuring cups and spoons, recipes, digital displays and other items.

– If you only have one light source, your kitchen may have dark spots filled with shadows, making it difficult to see.

– Dark cabinet finishes can make it look much darker inside the kitchen, making it more difficult to see what you’re doing.

– Many seniors have trouble seeing inside cabinets and drawers.

– Install lighting under cabinets, so you have extra lighting available on work surfaces.

– If your kitchen doesn’t get much natural light, replace the existing feature or add additional fixtures to brighten up the room.

– Paint your cabinets white or another light color.

– Install LED strips inside drawers, cabinets and other dark areas.

Work Surfaces

– High counters make it difficult for seniors who use wheelchairs to prepare meals or perform other kitchen tasks.

– In kitchens with narrow countertops, seniors have to use multiple surfaces to complete basic tasks, forcing them to move around more. For seniors with disabilities, the extra movement can be difficult.

– Limited counter space makes it difficult for seniors to perform kitchen tasks safely.

– Counters with cabinets underneath can be difficult to access if you use a wheelchair or walker.

– Hire someone to install countertops 28 to 34 inches above the floor. Before you get your new counters, test several heights until you find one that allows you to perform kitchen tasks without straining your back, neck or arms.

– Have wider countertops installed. Accessible counters are typically 30 inches wide.

– If you have the space available, hire someone to extend your existing countertop. Alternatively, you can purchase a mobile kitchen island, table or another piece of furniture to use as an extra work surface.

– Hire someone to install a countertop without cabinets underneath it.

Sinks

– Seniors who use wheelchairs may have trouble accessing the sink.

– Faucets with two knobs instead of a single lever can be difficult to operate.

– Clutter under the sink can make it less accessible for seniors with disabilities.

– Hire a plumber to install a sink that has the drain at the rear. This removes pipes from the front of the sink, making it more accessible to seniors who use wheelchairs.

– Have a plumber replace your current knobs with a single lever to reduce the amount of strength needed to turn the faucet on and off.

– Hire someone to install shelves or drawers next to the sink for storage of cleaning products and other items. This will eliminate clutter under the sink and make the area more accessible.

VII. Increasing Accessibility in the Bedroom

It’s important to get plenty of sleep every night, but if your bedroom isn’t as accessible as it should be, it can be difficult to access the bed or move around the room when you’re getting dressed and performing other activities. Try some of these suggestions to increase accessibility and make your bedroom more comfortable.

 

Potential Danger/Accessibility Issue

Recommended Modifications

Beds

– It can be difficult for seniors with disabilities to get into or out of high beds.

– Some seniors have difficulty sitting up in bed, especially if they have muscle or joint problems.

– Seniors who use wheelchairs may have trouble transferring from bed to chair or chair to bed.

– Replace your current mattress with one that’s not as thick.

– Replace your traditional bed with an adjustable bed that moves up and down.

– Install a bed assist handle next to the bed to give yourself something to hold when you get into and out of bed each day.

– Hire a professional to install a ceiling lift.

– Add grab bars to the wall above the bed.

Closets

– Doors that open outward make it difficult for seniors who use wheelchairs to access their closets.

– Closet shelving may be too high to reach comfortably.

– Hire a professional to replace your existing doors with sliding doors.

– Instead of storing items on a closet shelf, have someone install clothing racks, shoe cubbies and other items that you can easily reach.

Furniture

– Furniture with high surfaces can be difficult to reach.

– Drawers that open toward you may prevent you from using a piece of furniture as intended.

– Purchase furniture with low surfaces or have a carpenter build furniture designed specifically for your needs.

– Replace your dresser with a piece of furniture that has sliding doors instead of drawers that pull out.

Doorways

– Narrow doorways prevent seniors with wheelchairs from accessing their bedrooms safely.

– Hire a professional to widen the existing doorway.

VIII. Suggested Modifications for Homes With Multiple Floors

If your home has multiple floors, consider installing a stairlift to ensure you’re not confined to the first floor and unable to use the rooms upstairs. A stairlift is a motorized chair that moves up and down the stairs while you’re seated, allowing you to go upstairs or downstairs without putting your safety at risk. The Job Accommodation Network has a list of suggested vendors to help you find the right stairlift for your home.

Another option is to have a professional install a home elevator. This is a major modification, but it can make your home much more accessible, giving you the freedom to use the rooms upstairs as often as you’d like. Adding a home elevator also increases the value of your property, which can help you qualify for a home equity line of credit or a reverse mortgage if your finances change as you get older.

Electrical and Lighting Modifications to Improve Safety

As mentioned earlier, poor lighting is a major home hazard, as it makes it difficult to see where you’re going and to use the items in your home safely. In addition to the lighting modifications suggested above, consider making the following changes:

  • Dimmer switches. Although many seniors struggle to see in low light conditions, too much light creates glare. Have a professional install a dimmer switch, so you can make the light brighter or dimmer, depending on what you’re doing.
  • Motion sensors. Have someone install motion sensors on the lights in your hallways. If you wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, the light will come on when you enter the hallway, eliminating the need to fumble around looking for the switch.
  • Higher watt bulbs. Increase the wattage of the light bulbs in each room. Just be careful not to exceed the maximum wattage listed on the fixtures.
  • Natural light. Consider hiring a contractor to remove some of the walls in your living areas to allow more natural light into the space.
  • Task lighting. Add task lighting above your desk or anywhere you read, do puzzles or perform other activities.

Electrical safety is also an important consideration. It’s wise to have an electrician check the wiring and suggest updates that could make your home safer. This is especially important if you’ve smelled smoke while using certain appliances or seen sparks coming out of any electrical outlets or fixtures. You may need to install new fixtures, add grounded outlets or have the electrician replace your wiring.

Increasing Accessibility With Smart Home Technology

Smart home technology is making it easier than ever for seniors with disabilities to make their homes more accessible. Depending on the devices you use, you may be able to avoid getting up and down as often or reduce the amount of strength you need to perform certain tasks. To use smart technology, you need to have wireless internet at your home. You may also need to purchase additional equipment to use advanced features.

These are just a few examples of the smart home technology that can help you increase accessibility in your home:

  • Appliances with voice controls
  • Tablets with apps for controlling thermostats and other devices
  • Remote-controlled lighting
  • Smart plugs to automate appliances
  • Smart window shades
  • Sensors to detect movement and temperature changes

IX. Federal Resources for Seniors, Veterans and People With Disabilities

The programs below are managed by federal agencies and have resources available to help seniors, veterans and people with disabilities access home repairs and other services to increase accessibility.

Resource

Eligibility

How to Apply

Type of Assistance

Fair Housing Act

– Any individual with a disability

N/A

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on disability and other protected characteristics when buying a home, renting a home, applying for a mortgage and participating in other housing-related activities.

FHA Section 203K

– Must use an FHA approved lender

– Must purchase, refinance or renovate a home that’s more than 1 year old

– Must meet lender’s credit requirements

Contact a HUD-approved lender to start the application process.

The FHA Section 203(k) program provides funds to repair or rehabilitate a home. This program allows applicants to avoid the high interest rates and other unfavorable terms that often come with home repair loans. Funds may be used to eliminate safety hazards, make structural alterations or perform other improvements.

Specially Adapted Housing Program

– Must own or plan to purchase a home

– Must be a veteran with a service-connected disability

Log in to the eBenefits website to start your application.

As of 2022, the SAH program awards grants of up to $101,754 to veterans with service-connected disabilities. Eligible veterans can use the grants to buy, build or remodel homes, increasing their independence.

Special Home Adaptation Grants

– You or a family member must own a home or plan to purchase a home

– Must have a service-connected disability

Log in to the eBenefits website to start your application.

As of 2022, the SHA program awards grants of up to $20,387 to veterans with service-connected disabilities. The program is designed to help veterans find accessible housing or increase the accessibility of their current homes.

Medicaid

– Must be a U.S. citizen or lawful immigrant

– Must meet Medicaid financial requirements

Contact your state Medicaid agency to begin the application process.

In some states, Medicaid covers home modifications to help enrollees maintain their independence. The amount of coverage available depends on the state. Some states also have multiple Medicaid waivers, so coverage rules also depend on the waiver program.

Medicare

– Must be at least 65 or have a qualifying disability

– Must meet citizenship/immigration requirements

Fill out the Medicare application on the Social Security website.

Medicare doesn’t cover home repairs or modifications, but it may cover some of the items you need to stay in your home. For example, Medicare covers hospital beds when they’re medically necessary.