Preparing for Aging in Place: Home Modifications & Design


By Susan Williams

I love my home; It’s filled with memories. It’s the place where we raised our kids, held holiday celebrations, socialized with friends, and enjoyed many fun backyard BBQs. I feel comfortable in our community; We know our neighbours, are familiar with all the local shops, and are fortunate to have friends and family that live close by. My husband and I plan to stay living in our home as long as we possibly can.

And we are not alone.

A National Institute of Ageing (NIA)/TELUS Health Survey discovered that 91 percent of Canadians of all ages, and almost 100 per cent of Canadians 65 years of age and older, plan on supporting themselves to live safely and independently in their own homes as long as possible. This desire is commonly referred to as aging in place.

What Does Aging in Place mean?

The Government of Canada defines aging in place as;

“…having the health and social supports and services you need to live safely and independently in your home or your community for as long as you wish and are able.”

But to ensure that my intention to age in place becomes a reality, I also realize that we will likely need to make some modifications and adjustments to support this.

For example, as much as I can fly up and down the stairs in my home right now or climb on a ladder to replace a lightbulb, I realize this could be a problem for us in the future given potential future mobility challenges.

How to Assist the Elderly with Mobility Issues

Research has found that mobility issues are especially prevalent for older people. It’s estimated that 35% of persons aged 70 and most people over 85 years all struggle with some type of mobility issue. And mobility challenges can have some serious consequences. They have been associated with increased falls, hospitalization, decreased quality of life, and even mortality.

But it’s not just stairs or changing a lightbulb that can be physically challenging for us in our homes as we age. Getting in and out of a slippery shower or bathtub can also pose challenges. Plus, should we ever need to use some type of mobility aid – such as a wheelchair or walker – hallways and doorways need to be wide enough for us to be able to pass through. Add that to the likelihood of our eyesight declining with age, which means that some modifications in our homes may be necessary to support us long term.

The good news is that there are quite a few options available to help us prepare.

Aging in place home modifications

Installing stairlifts and home elevators are now quite common. There are also some beautiful aging-in-place bathroom options that embrace a universal design that could actually benefit people of any age, and if done well, could even add value to your home. Increased access to age friendly lighting options is also a relatively easy fix along with the ability to hire home services to help with maintenance around our homes.

Beyond the physical aspects, there are other areas that we need to consider should we want to age in place. We need to have easy access to services and support outside our homes. Groceries, social activities, healthcare, and transportation are just some examples.

Due to the pandemic, many services were forced online, and many have since remained there. We can now order groceries or meal packages to be delivered, join in social activities at a community centre or library through Facebook or a Zoom call,  and visit a physician remotely. Should we not be able to drive, we can order a ride through our smartphones.

As we plan to age independently in our own homes, the concerns of our loved ones for our health and safety may increase. Fortunately, there are now many different technology options and medical alert systems that we could use to help put their minds at ease and let them know that we’re doing well or notify them if there is a problem.

Managing Loneliness: Building Community Networks

Another critical factor to consider when planning to age in place is our community and our ability to stay connected and engaged with people outside our homes. Loneliness is a significant concern – especially for older people. Statistics Canada shared that one in five Canadians over the age of 65 reported feeling lonely. This is quite concerning as loneliness can have some serious health consequences. It has been linked to increased risk of dementia, heart disease and stroke and increased mental health issues. So, it will be critical for us to ensure that we have a strong social network established that allows us to continue to engage with others and not become isolated alone in our homes.

But effectively preparing to age in place takes time, money and energy and ideally should be done before it’s needed. All too often, we hear of situations where someone is forced to leave their home before they would like to because it’s not adapted to support their new life circumstances.

I really hope to age in my own home, but I also realize that if I want to make this hope a reality, some modifications will likely be necessary. And it’s probably best to make these changes before I actually need them.

“Do something today that your future self will thank you for” – Sean Patrick Flanery

About the Author

Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore – a digital media hub dedicated to providing information and inspiration to help people create and live their best later life. Susan is also the co-author of the book, Retirement Heaven or Hell: Which Will You Choose? and contributor to the book, Longevity Lifestyle by Design. Susan frequently writes and publicly speaks about the opportunities and challenges related to aging, retirement and longevity.

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