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Home renovation ideas put safety first while aging in place

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 15, 2016

 One easy and inexpensive fix to make a home more accessible is lever-style door handles, which are better for people with arthritis.

One easy and inexpensive fix to make a home more accessible is lever-style door handles, which are better for people with arthritis.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran


METRO DETROIT — Renovating your home to make it more accessible for an older loved one or yourself might sound daunting, but experts say there are more products and services than ever to make this doable.

Sandy Thom, a licensed occupational therapist and volunteer with AARP’s HomeFit program, said that compared to moving into an assisted living facility or nursing home — both of which can easily cost more than $100 per day — making your own home more livable is not only more pleasant, but also cheaper. 

Thom explained some of the options out there during an AARP HomeFit presentation June 7 at Services for Older Citizens in Grosse Pointe Farms.

One of the most important steps is to find contractors, landscapers, occupational therapists and the like who are Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists, a designation developed by AARP and the National Association of Home Builders, Thom said.

“Make sure they have that CAPS certification,” she said. “They know what is safe. They know how to (properly) adapt something for you.” 

Thom said people need to consider what’s important to them, from independence to leisure activities. A basement office or craft studio perhaps could be moved to the first floor; a basement laundry possibly could be relocated to the first floor — maybe placed in a closet.

One of the least expensive options is the replacement of traditional rounded doorknobs and cabinet pulls with lever or D-ring styles, which are easier for people with arthritis to open, Thom said. 

“Insurance doesn’t cover a whole lot of things anymore, so you want to make this as reasonable as possible,” she said.

Steps can be a problem, but Thom said temporary ramps — provided that they’re secure — can make entrance into a home easier, maybe from an attached garage into the home. For a more permanent solution, Thom said a landscape architect could help design a “very aesthetically pleasing” no-step front entrance.

Good lighting is vital, especially in hallways and near the front entrance, and touch-control lamps make it easy for anyone to turn them on and off. Traditional toggle light switches can be replaced with rocker switches. There should be light switches at the top and bottom of all staircases.

Landlines, cellphones and other communication devices should be readily available throughout the house; residents might want to purchase a home phone with multiple handsets so that they have them in various rooms.

Toilet seat risers, shower grab bars — some of which are now made with a non-slippery coating — and no-step entry showers are great options for bathrooms. Thom said there’s now a tub cutout modification that’s relatively inexpensive and can make a traditional tub a step-in version by adding a small “door” to the front. 

There also are tub grab bars that attach securely to the bathtub with suction cups, as well as a transfer tub seat that enables someone to swing their legs into the tub. Some surround showers from big box stores have built-in grab bars and/or seats, Thom said. Swing-clear hinges — especially on bathroom doors — can make entrances wide enough for a wheelchair by providing greater clearance.

For kitchens, Thom said there are pullout countertops that can be installed so someone can sit while preparing food. She said an even simpler, cheaper option might be to pull a card table up to the edge of a kitchen countertop so that dishes can be slid from countertop to table without spilling and without forcing someone to walk to the dining table. A card table can also be folded and stored when not in use.

Stairs should have no-slip carpeting or treads.

“(Throw rugs are) a major trip hazard,” Thom said. “We suggest you get rid of all of your throw rugs.”

One woman at the presentation, who asked not to be identified, said a bidet that attaches to the toilet is “easy to get” and makes hygiene easier. She also recommended that people get their homes outfitted for accessibility well in advance of, say, a planned surgery or a loved one’s moving in, because it takes time to plan and install improvements.

Christine Brown, an information and assistance specialist at Services for Older Citizens, said people seeking recommendations and assistance can start by either contacting their county’s Area Agency on Aging or their community’s senior center. 

For residents of the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods — which SOC serves — she said SOC has a “list of (vetted) home repair people” it can recommend, as well as a medical loan closet where seniors can borrow items like shower benches and rolling walkers.

“There’s a lot of great resources, but unless they call, they won’t know,” said SOC’s Debbie Liang, an information and assistance specialist, and a Medicare and Medicaid Assistance Program coordinator. She added that there are “a lot of income-based programs out there” that might be able to help with the cost of needed accessibility renovations. Contact the Michigan MMAP office toll-free at (800) 803-7174 or visit There are also programs that help veterans through the Department of Veteran Affairs.

For AARP’s HomeFit guide, visit or call (888) OUR-AARP.