As we get older, many of us still want to enjoy the same level of independence that comes with living in our own home. Sadly, with advancing age comes new challenges that make our old homes less practical, less easy to use and less safe. But all is not lost; there are a whole range of house adaptations for the elderly that can significantly extend the length of time you can stay safely in your old home.
You are not alone in facing these challenges. The Centre for Ageing Better’s ‘Homes that Help’ report found that more than a quarter of men and a third of women over 65 struggle with at least one of the activities of daily living.
A survey by Age UK and TNS found that a fifth of people aged between 60 and 69 had made alterations either to meet the challenges of old age, or to ‘future-proof’ their homes so that it is ready when they do need them. This figure rises to a third of people aged over 70. Age UK’s review of practical support at home found that as many as 2.45million older people in the UK have care needs, of whom three quarters of a million need to make home adaptations to meet those needs.
25% of men and 30% of women over 65 struggle with at least one of the activities of daily living
- The Centre for Ageing Better
The benefits of adapting your home
There are many benefits to adapting your home in retirement. “Small adaptations can make a significant difference,” explains Hugh Forde, the Managing Director of Age UK Trading. “They not only help people retain their independence and stay in their homes for longer, but also reducing falls and accidents, and the subsequent cost of care and resources." A review of scientific literature by Ageing Better agrees, concluding that “both minor and major home adaptations can improve a range of outcomes for people in later life, including improved performance of everyday activities and improved mental health.”
By altering your home to meet your needs, you will be safer and happier. According to the Age UK survey, 37% of respondents who had made changes said that they felt more confident and 25% said they worry less about the risks around their home.
37% of people who have made changes said that they felt more confident in their home
So what changes should you think about making to your home to create a safer, simpler environment?
How to make your home more accessible
Getting in and out of your home will get harder as you get older, especially if you have front steps or a sloping pathway. Installing an outdoor handrail can make life so much simpler and safer, or you can consider installing a front door ramp to provide access for wheelchairs or walking frames. Exterior lighting is also useful to help you move around safely in the evenings, and this can be operated automatically by sensors so that you can always see what you are doing.
If you struggle to get to the door when guests come to call, there are several solutions you can apply. Fitting an intercom, or a video entry system, will help you identify who is calling, and many systems will allow you to let them in by remote, so you don’t have to get to the door. Alternatively, you can fit a key-safe, which is accessed using a combination, which you can give to people in advance so they can let themselves in without you having to trust them with a key of their own.
How to make your bathroom more practical
Bathrooms are one of the most difficult and dangerous places for elderly home owners. They are an essential part of your daily routine, yet they hold so many challenges and pose so many risks. Fortunately, there are a range of practical bathroom alterations that will make it safer and easier to use. You could fit a bath lift to help you get in and out of the bath, or install a bath with side entry to save you having to climb in and out. Alternatively, you can fit a walk in shower, or even convert your bathroom into a wet-room, removing all obstacles completely.
How to make your kitchen easier to use
To maintain access to your kitchen, you may need to lower the height of the work surfaces and make shelves easier to reach. In most kitchens, shelves tend to be in low cupboards or high wall units, neither of which are particularly practical for people with limited mobility. You can also get a wide range of handy gadgets that make kitchen jobs easier, such as a kettle tipper, which helps you to pour the water without having to lift the weight of a full kettle.
How to make it easier to get around
Your stairs are likely to be the biggest challenge as you get older, and you may need to tackle this in stages as your mobility decreases. Initially, fitting stair rails on both sides will give you the confidence, support and security you need, although you may eventually need to install a stairlift. If the stairs become too much to cope with, you will need to move your living arrangements to the ground floor, which may require extensive work, such as installing a downstairs bathroom or even extending your home to make room for a bedroom on the ground floor.
Fitting grab-rails along corridors can make it easier to move around, and it may be worth changing the direction in which doors open to make it easier for you. If you are in a wheelchair, you may need to widen your doorways to provide better access.
Another alternative is to make a move toward single-level living. If that's of interest, we've written a full guide to buying a bungalow, here.
Future-proofing your home
If you plan to stay in your home as you age, it is well worth considering making some of these changes discussed above sooner rather than later. Planning for the future allows you to plan for the cost, and schedule the work to suit you, rather than having to make changes in response to an accident or decline in health, when it will be much more stressful.
The Age UK survey found that while 25% were happy to plan for their future needs, one in ten did not want to think about growing old, while one in five said they would only consider making changes if and when they had to. Some people find the equipment used in adapting homes for the elderly to be rather clinical, and instead of feeling reassured, it actually makes them feel older and more vulnerable. Yet by future-proofing your home now, with less clinical changes such as creating a wet-room bathroom, you can be ready for whatever your health holds in store.
By future-proofing your home now, you can be ready for whatever your health holds in store
One disadvantage in future-proofing, however, is that you will not get financial help for any adaptations you don’t yet need.
How to fund you home adaptations
If you need to make alterations to your home, you may be eligible for funding from your local council. Minor adaptations, such as external and internal hand rails, ramps or external safety lighting will be funded by your local council up to £1000.
For more significant work, such as adapting your bathroom for old age, you will need to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant.
To get a Disabled Facilities Grant, you must first have your needs assessed by an occupational therapist or a social worker. They will meet you in your home and see what adaptations would help you to stay in your own home for longer. These grants are means tested and there is an upper limit, but the council has a legal obligation to provide financial help for home adaptations if you need it.
What if you prefer to move somewhere more suitable?
If you don’t qualify for financial assistance to adapt your home, or if the changes you need are just too many to do, it may be simpler to move to a new home that is already adapted for elderly living.
We've written several in-depth articles about Retirement and Downsizing options - click here to visit the hub and explore further.
If you do decide to move, the home sale process can be long, uncertain and stressful. If you're worried about this, our service could be a great option. You can secure a fast house sale by choosing to sell your home to us directly. We can make you an offer in as little as 2-3 days, and buy from you in a timeframe to suit you. Our service is all about putting you in control, and giving you an easy, straight-forward way to free up the funds you need to buy a more suitable property.
Contact us on 0800 133 7687 and speak with our friendly team today to learn more. Alternatively, click here to visit our main Retirement & Downsizing Hub.
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