Home is Where Your Heart Is
Your Home is Your Castle
There’s No Place Like Home
There are so many cliches about home in our culture. And most are true, cliche or not. Our homes are an extension of our family. It’s the place we live our lives, the good, the bad, and the ugly. There’s a bonus cliche for you!
As you age, your home might become somewhat of a barrier. It may be harder for you to navigate the stairs or get in the tub. The cabinets may all of a sudden be a little harder to reach. Or the rugs on the floor have tripped you up multiple times.
One solution to this issue is to move into a more accessible living situation, like an independent living community for older adults. But if you don’t want to leave your home and the memories that reside in those walls, there are many things you can do to eliminate the barriers you are experiencing.
One of the most important rooms in your home to modify is your bathroom. There are several critical elements to think about. Remodeling a bathroom can be expensive, but if you are set on aging at home, these modifications are worthwhile and necessary to keep you safe. AARP estimates a full renovation could cost between $25,000 and $40,000, but there are less expensive tweaks you can make in key areas. As we discuss these modification projects, we will offer a range of ideas and costs so you can pick and choose what is best for you.
Let’s start outside the bathroom. For access purposes, you will need to have at least one full bathroom on the main floor of your home. There may come a time when climbing stairs is not an option any longer. If you do not have a full bathroom on the main floor, please consider adding one.
Let’s assume you do have a full bathroom on the main floor. How wide is the doorway?
If you ever need a wheelchair or a walker, your bathroom door may not be wide enough to get through. Widening a door is not usually a complicated or costly project unless the door is next to a corner or plumbing or electrical wires are in the wall. Make sure to extend the width of the door frame so that the new door will close properly. Experts recommend widening a door to 32 inches.
Ideally, your bathroom should have a 5-foot turning radius to accommodate a wheelchair. That means you might need to move walls. This, of course, can be costly but necessary if you want to maintain some independence while in a wheelchair.
You’ll also need space underneath the sink so that your wheelchair fits underneath the countertop. That would mean replacing the vanity either with one that has cabinets on the side or no cabinets. You should also lower the countertop and the sink so you can reach them from your chair. A sink vanity with a countertop could cost $1,200 to $2,500 for a standard cabinet brand. You could even install adjustable height (or varying height) countertops. Make sure all edges are rounded and easy to see for safety purposes.
If your bathroom floor gets slippery when wet, it’s best to change it. Marble is a good example of a slippery surface. Consider installing tiles with a little bit of texture in them to provide traction. The smaller the tile, the greater the slip resistance. Ceramic tile can cost less than $1 per square foot, and porcelain tiles can cost up to $2.75 per square foot.
If you’re on a budget, you could cover your bathroom floor with non-skid bath rugs or mats, as long as they are not tripping hazards. The best rugs or mats are thinner and have a rubber backing that keeps them in place. However, if you are primarily in a wheelchair or your bathroom floor space is really small, the mats may not be necessary and may end up getting in the way.
Tub or Shower?
The tub can be a dangerous fixture for older adults. You may find it difficult to maintain your balance as you lift your legs up and over the tub edge. There are several kinds of modifications to consider. You could replace the tub with a curbless shower you can step in without having to lift your legs as much. These curbless showers can be large enough to roll a walker or wheelchair into it. You could also replace the tub with a walk-in tub, which offers a door that opens so you can step in and then closes with a watertight seal. Adding a shower can range from $600 to $800 for a standard model. A higher-end shower costs up to $3,000. The average cost of a walk-in tub is generally between $2,000 to $5,000.
Adding at least one safety bar to your tub and safety strips to the tub or shower floor is an absolute must, whether you replace it or not. These inexpensive additions will help you prevent slips and falls by giving you some traction underneath your feet and a sturdy rail to steady yourself.
Another less expensive modification is adding a shower seat. This seat fits in your tub or shower and allows you to sit while you bathe. Or you could purchase a transfer bench. These benches straddle the side of the tub, enabling you to sit while you swing your legs over the bathtub wall and then stay seated while you bathe. Shower seats are very cost-effective, usually under $100.
Have you noticed it is harder to lower yourself into your favorite easy chair or couch? And then even harder to get up? That is typical for most older adults. This small change in your body can be very dangerous in the bathroom. Raising the toilet seat so that you don’t have to strain to sit or lose your balance getting up can make an incredible difference.
You can replace the toilet seat with one that is higher, or you can purchase a seat extender. A seat extender is a raised toilet seat that sits on your existing seat. It will raise the seat between 2 and 4 inches. This is a very economical way to solve the issue.
You can replace your toilet with taller options. Comfort-height toilets measure about 17 to 18 inches from the floor to the top of the seat. The average price for this type of toilet should be about $350 to $600.
The toilet area is another place where grab bars are essential. Install them next to the toilet to keep you balanced while using it.
As we mentioned above, if you are in a wheelchair you would have better access by lowering your bathroom sink and hanging it on the wall with no cabinets underneath. That way, you can roll your legs underneath it while using the sink.
Lever handle faucets are also a good idea for older adults with grip issues due to arthritis or other joint conditions. There is no need to twist a handle, just push it up. There are also foot-operated faucets and hands-free faucets available.
How to Pay for Bathroom Modifications
If you are on a limited budget, there are some options for help.
Some states have financial assistance programs dedicated to keeping older adults out of Medicaid-paid nursing homes. These programs help pay for home modifications that enable seniors to stay at home. Eligibility differs by state but is usually based on age and income. Check this website for a list of these state-run programs.
There may be a Medicaid-based path to funding for you. Some states (Colorado) have Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Waivers. Also, some states have at-home services in their managed Medicaid programs or Medicaid State Plans. These programs provide assistance so older adults can remain living at home, including paying for home modifications. Each state offers different waivers and programs with different eligibility requirements and benefits. Here’s a complete list of Medicaid programs that cover home modifications.
Also, your Area Agency on Aging may run a home safety modifications program that assists older adults with installing grab bars and handrails, moveable showerheads, raised toilet seats, shower seats, and safety pendants. They may even hire a handyman to do the labor for you. Additionally, there are services that will come into the home, interview you, assess the situation, and make recommendations for modifications.
More and more older adults are making the decision to live their golden years at home. If you are one of those seniors, there are plenty of resources available for you to stay safe and healthy.