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April 15, 2013

Aging in Place: Look for Universal Design Features

In 2009, Katie Norris (known as Reverend Katie online) and her family moved into her childhood home to help care for her mother who had recently been diagnosed with dementia. A few years later, Reverend Katie and her family decided to move into their own home just 2.5 miles away.

When searching for homes, Reverend Katie said she looked for certain universal design features that would make it easy for her parents, both Kendal at Home members, to visit.

According to AARP, universal design is all about creating “an attractive, stylish space that everyone, regardless of age, size or ability, can live in or visit.” A home with universal design is barrier-free without looking purposely modified, allowing residents to stay in place, even as their abilities change.

Reverend Katie provides the following features other caregivers in her position or older adults looking to downsize can look for in a universal design home. 

  • No-Step Entry: Look for homes with at least one step-free entry indoors. This not only eases entry for those in a wheelchair, it also allows them to get out fast in an emergency. And as a bonus, flat entries attract parents with children in strollers should you choose to relocate. Additionally, you can consider homes that have few exterior stairs that can be replaced with a ramp.
  • French Doors: Look for homes with French (or double) doors that allow a wide, unobstructed opening.
  • Wide Interior Doors: Look for doors a few inches wider than the standard 34 inches.
  • Open Space: Look for homes with an open, studio-like design, so a wheelchair-bound person can easily move about.
  • Downstairs Bathroom/Bedroom: Look for homes with a full bath downstairs. Bedrooms on the first floor are also a plus, but not necessary to be considered universal.
  • Low Shelving and Sinks: Look for homes with low countertops, appliances, shelves, and sinks. In the kitchen, look for low cabinet shelves that pull out like drawers for easy access. Pullout kitchen shelves, especially, have a wide crossover appeal for anyone who doesn’'t enjoy bending over and scrounging for hard-to-reach items.
  • Smooth Shower Entry: Look for showers with a smooth entry that are easier to enter and exit. Showers with entrances like this are angled just enough to prevent water from seeping into the rest of the bathroom. You could also look for homes with collapsible shower water dams/retainers.
  • Easy Turn Faucets/Fixtures: Look for homes with two-handle or single-level fixtures that pass the “closed fist test.” According to This Old House's Kevin O'Connor, fixtures that pass the closed fist test are those that can be operated without opening your hand and twisting.
  • Easy Twist Doorknobs: Look for non-twisting doorknobs that can also pass the closed fist test. If the home you decide to purchase does not have this type of hardware, you can purchase doorknob turners, which make round doorknobs easy to turn with a closed fist or elbow.
  • Grab Bars: Today’s grab bars are often stylish and multi-functional. Many bathroom grab bars double as shelves for toiletries, and kitchen grab bars double as towel racks. 

Are you considering downsizing? Download “Top 10 Downsizing Survival Tips ” to help you along the way!

Photo Credit: Katie Norris

Downsizing Made Simple!


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