Is your home ready for your future years?

Creating a safe, comfortable home for lifelong living.

by Rachel Tanzer

The thought of leaving one’s  memory-laden home because  of age or health-related issues is  untenable to many seniors. Most  would do almost anything to stay. According to AARP, 89 percent  of older Americans want to stay in  their current home and community as long as possible. And this trend continues as many of the country’s 77 million baby boomers turn 65 and choose that option, too.

Most people are “aging in place” without urgent needs and want to plan ahead, but they don’t know the myriad of options. Many caregivers have had eye-opening experiences that have motivated them to plan for their continued independent living. However, most homes are static (with immovable or nonadjustable elements), and it would take considerable investment to adapt to potential needs.

What are some of these seniors’ needs that often develop? They can include difficulty reaching and bending, impaired sight, hearing and balance and reduced dexterity and touch sensation. Fortunately, these needs can be addressed to make homes safe and accessible.

With today’s focus on equity of use, many new homes are now built with Universal Design. Universal Design is the creation of products and environments to be usable by people of all ages and physical abilities to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

Of course, the best way to ensure a home’s usability as one ages is to purchase one that has been built with Universal Design and your specific needs in mind. Usually, this option is unfeasible due to finances or the desire to remain in one’s community. Another option is to update one’s home using the principles of Universal Design. Many such updates are inexpensive and do not require structural changes. Besides, if you do choose to remodel and make structural changes, the overall cost is generally less than or equal to a year of assisted living. Also, Universal Design updates add value and beauty to your home.

Take a look at the sidebar on page 11 for some easy and affordable updates for incorporating Universal Design principles in your living space.


6 easy and affordable updates to incorporate Universal Design into your home.

1. Replace door knobs with lever handles. 

They are much easier to use if you have issues with dexterity or if your hands are full.

2. Install rocker switches in place of traditional light switches.

These, like lever handles, are easier to use; just tap with an elbow, shoulder, etc.

3. Improve lighting throughout the house.

Introduce more lights and brighter, more efficient bulbs (CFLs or LEDs).

4. Replace traditional hinges with offset swing hinges on doors.

This adds two inches to doorways.

5. Reorganize your kitchen.

Place heavier items, which are hard to pull down from heights, in lower cabinets.

6. Install pull-down shelving.

This makes overhead kitchen cabinets more easily accessible

CJE SeniorLife has made a concentrated effort to retrofit its buildings to include Universal Design principles and offer the latest in design and comfort for our residents. Updates at CJE SeniorLife facilities have included:

  • Lever handles on doors to offices and apartments.
  • Stoves with knobs in front of burners (not behind) in subsidized housing community spaces.
  • Clear and wide walkways for easier maneuvering with assistive devices.
  • Improved lighting.
  • Grab bars in bathrooms to reduce falls.
  • Electronic access for entry doors.

As CJE SeniorLife continues to improve and renovate its facilities, please be assured that these changes are not merely redecorating projects – they are important updates for increased usability.CJE SeniorLife also offers consultations about in-home safety and accessibility. To make an appointment, call 773.508.1000.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of LIFE, CJE SeniorLife's quarterly magazine.