Here are stylish and economical ways to remain safe and comfortable at home.

Wouldn’t you love to stay in your own home as you get older? Well, thanks to a new trend called “aging in place” (AIP), thousands of aging baby boomers and older people are comfortably, economically and safely remaining at home—avoiding the high cost and upheaval of moving to assisted-living facilities or nursing homes.

What’s involved: Homes are now being cost-effectively and stylishly modified for individuals living with vision, balance, mobility or other health concerns. Renovations are done so that the space doesn’t feel sterile and the home is functional for anyone, regardless of age or health condition. For example, an able-bodied person can be comfortable in the same environment as a spouse in a wheelchair…and children can spend time at their grandparents’ home without ever noticing anything “different” about the space.

AIP features include skylights and well-placed task lighting for people with diminished vision…open showers for individuals in wheelchairs…easy-to-turn lever doorknobs and faucets for arthritis sufferers and much more. People needn’t wait to renovate until they have retired or been diagnosed with a chronic condition—many home owners are proactively retrofitting their living spaces.

Bonus: AIP saves money. The average cost of a nursing home is currently about $6,700 a month or $80,400 a year. Of course renovations cost money as well, but while some are more involved and costly, many are fairly simple and inexpensive. Plus, making a home more comfortable, functional and safe adds to its resale value, especially when modifications are done stylishly.

Products to check out now…*

    • Better lighting. Vision inevitably deteriorates with age. Adequate lighting throughout the house helps prevent falls and run-ins with walls, corners and doors. Central ceiling fixtures, wall sconces with translucent shades and skylights are all good choices. Motion-activated lighting is helpful during middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom. Task lighting in the bathroom, kitchen and reading nooks should be directed from the side, versus overhead, to avoid glare. Rocker light switches are easier to use than traditional flip switches,
      and when positioned 42 to 48 inches above the floor, they are accessible to everyone, including someone in a wheelchair.
    • Easy-to-reach cabinets and drawers. Vision difficulties, limited range of motion or the constraints of a wheelchair make it extremely difficult to locate and reach items in the back of a typical pantry, cabinet or drawer. Customized shelving and ready-made inserts (these can be cut to fit a drawer) that easily pull out bring items in the deeper parts of cabinets, drawers and pantries within reach with a minimum of bending and lifting. Pop-up shelves work well for heavy items such as kitchen mixers or blenders—a lift mechanism does all the work. Check:
    • Accessible sinks. Wheelchair users require ample clearance below sinks (typical sinks might have a vanity or pipes underneath). They also need sinks that are a minimum of 27 to 29 inches and a maximum of 34 inches off the floor so that faucets are within reach. Since standard counter height is 36 inches, the slightly shorter height often works fine for non-wheelchair users.

Rear-mounted pipes, four-legged consoles and wall-mounted sinks are all good alternatives. There are many stylish sinks that meet these requirements. Faucets installed on the side of the sink enhance accessibility, and lever-style handles offer better grip than knobs (the same goes for doorknobs).

  • Elevated toilets. At 17 to 19 inches high (a few inches higher than a standard toilet), “comfort height” or “chair height” toilets are often more comfortable for anyone to use, regardless of health condition. For people with painful joints or arthritis, they require less bending at the knee, and wheelchair users find them easier to get on and off of. They come in a range of designs, from utilitarian to trendy, and need not cost more than standard-height models.
  • Grab bars. Used to maintain balance or offer something to grasp in case of a slip, grab bars have traditionally had an institutional look. But today’s grab bars come in beautiful finishes, such as brushed nickel and bronze. They can be installed next to the toilet and inside and outside the tub and shower area but also in the kitchen, hallways, entryways and other living spaces.Note: A towel bar is not the same thing as a grab bar—the latter is designed to be weight bearing and must be anchored into blocking (a secure mount). If they are in the right location, your contractor can attach grab bars to wall studs. Otherwise, a contractor can open the wall and install mounts for grab bars.
  • Open showers. Wheelchair users need a wide entry and turnaround space in the shower. A flat entry promotes safe access for anyone who has balance, vision or mobility concerns. With no raised threshold to avoid overflow, the floor of the shower should be gently angled toward the drain. To guard against slipping, the floor should have a nonskid surface. Honed-finish ceramic tiles and tiles with nonslip coating are good choices. Small tiles (four inches or smaller) are preferred—the extra grout lines also help prevent skids.An AIP shower needs a bench or seat…and multiple showerheads (an overhead fixture plus a handheld), ideally with heat-control function to avoid accidental burns. The faucet, handheld showerhead and grab bar should be reachable from the seat. These accessories come in a range of prices and styles and don’t take up as much room as you would think.For people who prefer baths, wide, flat tub ledges provide seating for safe transfer into the tub. And faucets can be offset for easier transition in and out of the tub. Another option is a walk-in tub, with a hinged door for easy, safe entry. Walk-in tubs come in a variety of sizes—compact, standard and oversized. Prices vary widely.

*Most of these items are widely available at home-improvement and plumbing supply stores. For proper installation, consult an occupational therapist or Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)—architects, designers, contractors and health-care consultants with special training in modifying homes for older individuals. To find a CAPS in your area, go to