Age-in-place upgrades: Home improvements for older owners
As our population ages, more and more people are seeking accessible homes where they can live for as long as possible.
Everyone wants to be able to function independently in their home and not become a burden to loved ones. But that isn't always easy when confronted with things within our home that we have always taken for granted, yet suddenly they've become huge obstacles.
Consequently, many are searching for, or building, homes on one level with wider doorways and hallways (to accommodate wheelchairs) or zero-step entries, which make access to the home from outdoors seamless. Other popular features include easier-to-use kitchens, bathrooms and bathing facilities.
There's also an established market for furniture that homeowners with physical challenges can readily use.
Existing homes with nonaccessible spaces can be retrofitted in some areas (like by adding ramps and stair lifts), but other changes are extremely difficult and costly to do, such as widening hallways and doorways. Bathrooms seem to be the easiest room to retrofit for accessibility in an existing home.
Bath Planet of Chicagoland installs roll-in showers for those in wheelchairs, easy-to-step-over low barrier threshold showers and even walk-in tubs, according to Kevin Gustafson, sales manager.
Those who wish to soak in a tub can step up only 4 inches, close the little door in the side of the tub and then relax on an elevated seat. This soaking tub offers airjets, hydrojets, an ozonator (which keeps bacteria out of the water), aromatherapy and chromatherapy systems, and lighting that uses the soothing qualities of color to let your mind and body drift and dream as you relax in a warm bath, he explained.
"This tub can fit in the same space as a regular tub -- about 5 feet -- so we can easily retrofit most homeowners' bathrooms with one of these wonderful tubs and do it in only one day," Gustafson said.
"We do a lot of these installations for seniors and they love them," he added.
Stair lifts on both indoor and outdoor stairs are another readily available retrofit for existing homes. One well-known brand, Acorn, has easy-to-use stair lifts that fit to the stairs, not the wall, so there is no drilling into masonry and plaster and their engineers can even install them on complex curved staircases.
All of Acorn's stair lifts have been independently tested and certified to comply with the newest European safety standard for stair lifts and Acorn has won a number of awards, including the Ease-of-Use commendation from the Arthritis Foundation.
When it comes to furnishing your home with furniture that makes life easier to live, O'Reilly's Furniture and Amish Gallery in Libertyville has many great, customizable options.
For instance, the store offers several brands of lift chairs for those with strength and walking issues, said Michael Walsh, owner.
"Customers in a hurry can come into the store and purchase a chair right off our floor if they wish and we can deliver it," he said. "Or they can customize something they see on the floor or in a catalog, choosing their own fabric (many of which are waterproof or moisture-repellent), and adding things like heat, vibration and even the full-recline option for sleeping."
O'Reilly's also carries custom Amish-made end tables and coffee tables that can be made in such a way that they become easier for those with physical challenges to use. For instance, Walsh said, they can add casters to tables so that they can be easily moved when someone needs to get through with a walker or a wheelchair.
They can also add lift tops to coffee tables so that they can provide a space for dining, snacking or working in front of the television. They also offer storage within the table for blankets, games and other items used on a regular basis.