AMARILLO Owning a home is part of the American dream. However, as Americans age, their dream homes may need changes too, one Texas Cooperative Extension specialist said.
Whether buying a new home or remodeling an existing one, keep in mind special needs may occur in later years, said Andrew B. Crocker, Extension gerontology health specialist.
“When looking for that new home or thinking about remodeling your existing home, think about following the principles of Universal Design,” Crocker said.
These are meant to make products, communications and buildings simpler for everyone to use, according to the Center for Universal Design.
Some design features to think about for aging homeowners, Crocker said, include:
A ground-level entry way for easy access in and out of the living space; stairs leading up to the doorways may make entry to the home more difficult;
Doorways in the home should open wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, if that becomes necessary; and
Sidewalk width and slopes around the house should provide easy wheelchair access.
A single-story home allows for better maneuverability for those with physical impairments, Crocker said. Stairs pose a risk for falling for persons of any age, especially older adults.
” Be sure that stairs are covered with a non-slip surface and that they are well lighted,” he said. “If you have a multi-story home, consider whether or not you have everything you need on the ground floor, such as a bedroom or bathroom, in the event you are unable to climb the stairs.”
The kitchen is the new “family room,” so homeowners should make sure it is accessible, Crocker said. Make pathways through the kitchen wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or walker.
“Also, make sure that if you are ever confined to a wheelchair that you will have access to your cabinets and drawers,” he said. “Equip your sink with push/pull lever faucet handles rather than the standard knobs, in case something like arthritis or stroke impairs your ability to grip things.”
Doors, cabinets and drawers with should have large, easy-to-grip knobs or pulls on them, Crocker said. Choose “lever” type door handles that may be pushed down or lifted up to open. Even someone impaired by arthritis or stroke should be able to use them, he said.
Home improvement stores also carry pull-out trays that fit into existing cabinets, allowing access to utensils without having to stoop and dig through cabinets, he said.
Access to the bathroom is paramount, Crocker said.
“Will you be able to get in and out of your bathroom if you are in a wheelchair or using a walker? Will you be able to reach your sink? Make sure the doorway to your bathroom is wide and there is plenty of floor space to move around inside of it,” he said.
Handrails and grab bars may become important later in life. Make sure the walls in the bathroom will support such devices, Crocker said. Most tubs and showers should be able to accommodate a chair or bench and can be fitted with handheld shower heads for use while seated.
More information about using the principle of Universal Design, or about housing and environmental concerns, is available in the accessibility section of housing on Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences Web site, http://fcs.tamu.edu