Seniors Home Modifications: How to Adapt your Home to Prevent Falls and Accidents for the elderly.

This article is a complete guide to making modifications to your house or living spaces for elderly residents or people living with a disability. This is a handy guide to all the modifications and considerations you need to think of as you plan a renovation or construction for an elderly resident to ensure they live safely, comfortably and with the confidence that they can carry on their lives without risk of fall or injury.

Where are elderly falls likely to occur?

There are a few fall hotspots in a house, where elderly and disabled people who are living independently, or partially independently fall most frequently. This is in the bathroom, bedroom and kitchen and in any houses where there are internal or external stairs. These are areas of your renovation or construction where you should focus your attention, and there are plenty of fixtures that can be added to these spaces to help people move around the rooms more safely. This will also give them more peace of mind and confidence when undertaking challenging life tasks – like showering, changing and making food.

What do we mean by elderly home modifications?

A home modification is a renovation or refurbishment, fitting, layout change or any other modification to your home that assists an elderly person, or person with a disability move around the home safely. You can make these modifications to your home once constructed, or plan for these issues if you are building a home where an elderly or disabled person will live. There are heaps of builders and services that can help you as you embark on this process.

Some of these modifications are there to help carers and family care for these people – including assisting them in living a more independent life, and a life free from accidents as they go about their daily business. There is a broad spectrum of these types of modifications and features available to you – we’ll discuss more below.

Government Funding and support for home modifications:

In Australia, many state and territory governments provide financial support for those constructing or modifying a home for an elderly person, or person with a disability. There are a few hoops to jump through – but it's worth pursuing because these modifications can be expensive – if you intend to go the whole way and ensure your house is optimally safe and comfortable for your loved one.

The process involves you undertaking a home assessment with a representative from your Community Care Program or equivalent in each state, and they will also undertake an occupational therapy assessment to understand what level the person requires modifications and support in the home. From there – you will engage a Master-Builder qualified contractor or home aids service to provide you with a cost estimate, and you will need to re-engage with your state-based service at this point to share your cost estimate, and agree on the size of your rebate and the activities that they will and won’t fund.

Just a warning here – you cannot simply make the desired changes to your house or theirs and lump them with the bill – you need to engage the whole way and follow the process, and then your rebate will likely be forthcoming. From what I’m told the process can be frustrating and protracted – but as you will notice below, some of the changes that you may need to make to your home or your renovation aren’t cheap and can have a substantial impact on your construction budget – so ensure you reach out to them prior so there are no surprises.

Hire or buy assistive technology and aids?

There are services across Australia that can help you buy aids and install them permanently in your house (things like guard rails, ramps etc are permanent fixtures discussed below) but there are also many services that allow you to hire long-term equipment to help people with disabilities or elderly in their homes. A lot of these types of equipment are more around the mobility of a person (like wheelchairs, car equipment, temporary bathroom equipment such as toileting assistance) more so than permanent fixtures to your home, but these services have some of the latest independent living and assistive technology on the market and due to their affiliations with the government, offer hire rates that are incredibly low over the long-term.

Home Construction & Design Ideas for the Elderly:

If you are building a home for an elderly person from the construction phase, then there are some world’s best practice ideas around designing homes for older people and people with disabilities (ie, you wouldn’t necessarily design a two-storey home for these types of residents, just to name the most obvious one). We recommend dropping into an assisted living facility in your neighbourhood and taking a good look around – these buildings have been built for this purpose from design and can give you some excellent inspiration.

If you are designing and building a residence for people with disabilities, special needs or the elderly, here is a great list of considerations you can make during the design phase:

  • Low set houses, one-storey only
  • Same storey entry from garage to living area
  • Undercover car port for alighting vehicles in bad weather
  • Wide garage spaces to people can be assisted to and from their vehicles
  • Wide door frames for carers and wheelchairs.
  • Wide corridors between rooms
  • Sliding doors with push button releases
  • Ramps and rails at entry points
  • Low kitchen and bathroom benches
  • Screen security doors, and screen enclosures around outdoor areas

Home renovation or modification ideas for elderly and disabled – a complete guide:

Below is the complete list of home modifications, equipment and aids you could make for an elderly or disabled resident to improve both their quality of life and personal safety living in their home, and ensure they can live in comfort in their own homes for as long as possible.

Elderly Bedroom Modifications & Aids

Elderly residents will sleep and change in their bedrooms, so these rooms have to be the centre of comfort and safety in the home of a disabled or elderly resident. Thankfully – there are lots of great aids and services to help:

  • Bed Rails – install a modulated bed with motorised adjustments with bed rails on either side.
  • Walk-in wardrobe – with plenty of room to manoeuvre a wheelchair if necessary
  • Lowered hanging racks and draws – it can sometimes be easier for the person to have items in draws and tallboys, rather than hanging. If there is hanging space, lower the racks for easy reach
  • Bedroom phone or safety system - the person needs to be able to make a phone call in case of emergencies
  • Easy to reach power source – they will want to plug in their mobile phone and iPad to charge easily at night.
  • Ensure the bed can be reached on three sides – this is for ease of changing sheets and assisting the person if in trouble

Elderly Kitchen Modifications & Aids

The kitchen is the central area for socialising and living in most people’s homes and the place where they will make a meal three times a day – so convenience needs to be top-of-mind when designing, remodelling or just reworking the kitchen area for a senior:

  • Lowered kitchen benches – not easy or cheap to do in an existing home, but if you are renovating or building new, consider creating a kitchen where the benches can be accessed by someone in a wheelchair
  • Strategic pantry packing – think about the location of everyday items and how easy they are to reach. For those in wheelchairs – it makes sense to put high use items in cupboards down low, but for seniors who are still upright and mobile, it's not great to put a lot of items down in cupboards where bending is required.
  • Soft-close cabinets and doors – these are just easier and tidier solutions for people with limited mobility.

Hallways and Passageways & Aids

  • Nightlights – these plug into power points down low and illuminate softly after dark.
  • Guardrails and handrails – these are great for long hallways (just to provide a pitstop if necessary)
  • Wide hallways should be considered in new constructions.

Bathroom Modifications & Aids

Going to the bathroom or showering can be a point of frustration and anxiety for the elderly, especially because the presence of water everywhere makes them feel unsafe. The bathroom is where you should focus a lot of your safety modification efforts:

  • Handheld showers – showers on tethered chords that can be brought down and used by someone who’s seated.
  • Non-slip bathroom treatment & mats – if you aren’t able to treat the tiled floor with a non-slip paint or covering, this is your next best bet.
  • Grab rails and handrails – shower and bath – put them everywhere – in the shower, near the sinks and on the way out.
  • Shower rods and screen removal – shower screens are less safe than curtains and rods and harder to operate. Remove them and replace with curtains.
  • Bath seats and chair platforms – seats and platforms.

Staircase & Step Modifications & Aids

As people age, it becomes less and less practical that they live in a house with a lot of staircases, steps or undulating ground. But that doesn’t mean they have to leave their multi-storey home immediately – because below are some helpful modifications to these areas for greater living ease:

  • Consider a chair lift: if the senior or elderly person still lives in a multiple-storey home, then it might be necessary to install a chair lift for them so they can reach higher floors. These lifts come in a standard seat – where the resident can simply sit and be transported upstairs, or alternatively, there are bulkier lifts that can take whole wheelchairs.
  • Guardrails – if not at the point of the chairlift, then guardrails on both sides of the stairwell are essential.
  • Relocate bedroom and living areas – we would strongly recommend that you relocate the senior person to one floor – where most of their living can occur without needing to use the stairs frequently. This will greatly improve their daily quality of life.
  • Elevators – for houses set into hills and other challenges – there are full lifts that can be affixed to the outside of the house, and from lower garages etc that can improve mobility in a house on multiple levels.
  • Replace stairs with ramps where you can – small sets of steps into rooms, outdoor areas or front doors can be challenging over time. Replace with ramps where possible.
  • Visibility & traction improvements – add visibility and traction strips on the front edge of the stairs so each stair can be seen more easily.

Outdoor Area Modifications & Aids

Just like everyone else in Australia – seniors and people living with disabilities love living and socialising outdoors - but there are a couple of tricks and hacks below which will ensure that outdoor areas are safe and comfortable:

  • Outdoor decks – ensure boards are the same height and boards aren’t uneven.
  • Railings should be added to deck stairs and edges (including appropriate balustrading)
  • Level uneven ground – if your resident likes to garden or be in the garden, then hire a lawn roller off of iseekplant to ensure that undulating ground is levelled.
  • Pave or concrete walking paths and install railings – make passage around the outside of the house easy.
  • Ensure adequate drainage – ensure water doesn’t pool on walkways, driveways or deck areas.
  • Raised garden beds are a great idea – if your senior resident likes to garden, then raising the garden beds gives them easier access (without the need to squat etc).

Carport & Driveway Modifications & Aids

If you are building a new house – consider ensuring that the garage is double wide for each car – because assisting someone to and from a car requires the doors to be open fully – which can add quite a bit of egress space required.

  • Ensure the flooring is non-slip – some garage floor concrete paints can be super slippery, especially when wet. Applying a non-slip coating, or recovering the garage is a must to reduce the chances of falls – especially when assisting someone using a car.
  • Sensor lighting – can ensure visibility when returning home at night
  • Storage height – if the garage is the house’s storage zone, then ensure items are not stored completely out of reach and bulky items can’t fall from above.

Flooring Modification & Aids

Obviously – the quality and design of the flooring in any house where a senior or person with a disability resides can have a big impact on their safety, as well as greatly decrease their risk of a fall. Below are the must-dos with respect to flooring modifications:

  • Non-slippery services – Laminate, polished wood, some tiles, polished concrete and other modern, stylish floor coverings can be a death-trap for seniors or people living with a disability. Consider recovering floors with non-slip variants or carpet in living areas.
  • Low glare flooring solutions – believe it or not, glare from sunlight on shiny floor services such as tiles or lino can contribute to a fall in a senior. This is just another reason why you don’t want shiny floor coverings in a house for seniors
  • No sunken areas or undulated flooring – raised and lowered floors can be great from a designer's point-of-view – but entirely impractical for a senior or elderly person living in your home. It makes sense to ensure that all areas of your house have level flooring and if constructing the home, build it on one level with a completely flat layout.

Lighting & Air Conditioning Modifications & Aids

Some elderly residents can be vision impaired, so adequate lighting can be an important home modification to make for comfort and safety.

  • Install hallway nightlights that are on permanently after the sunsets for ease of mobility between rooms
  • Install sensor lights through each room that automatically turn on when motion is detected
  • Install timers on lights so they turn off automatically
  • Touch-operated lamps on the bedside and reading areas which can be operated with a touch of the hand
  • Move light switches closer to the bed, and install a master switch close to the bed (similar to a hotel) that allow the senior person to switch off all the lights when going to bed.
  • Install motion sensor lights around the house, and in the garage
  • Ensure the lighting in stairways and passageways is bright and easy to reach at each end
  • If your elderly person is in a wheelchair – or its conceivable that they could be in the future, ensure that all switches and air-conditioning controls are at a height they can reach while seated.
  • Elderly people sometimes have poor circulation and have trouble regulating their body temperature, so ensure that air-conditioning systems have a remote, or central thermostat that’s within reach.

Doorways & Entry Modifications & Aids

If you ever have visited purpose-built elderly living facilities, then you will notice some unique features of their design that can give you inspiration if you are building a home or residence for a senior citizen. One of the things you will notice is that all the doorways and entryways to the building are wide and connected by ramps.

  • Widen doorways and door frames for easy passage of wheelchairs
  • Sliding doors are often best for seniors more so than knobs
  • Ramps to and from the building
  • Some seniors living spaces have push-button door releases with soft-close doors on gas struts
  • Putting automatic closing gas struts on doors ensure they close after entering
  • Lowered handles and doorknobs
  • Easy to lock security screens and double bolts on doors (for security and safety)

Warning and Help Systems For Elderly

There is some amazing technology on the market that can be built into homes from the point of construction that can fully enable the senior to live in a very technologically connected and safe way – including panic facilities and automated help services. There are also many features that can be enabled on a mobile phone device – including some cool apps that can assist a senior person that is in a state of panic or emergency.

Some of the machine's you may need when modifying a house for an elderly resident

iseekplant is Australia's largest construction marketplace. We can help you get the machine you require, where you require it, at the best rate. Below are some quick links to some major cities.