For Boomers & Their Aging Parents
Questions & Answers
Question: Will modifying my bathroom negatively
affect my home’s value?
modifying your bathroom to make it safer and more accessible will improve the
value of your home. Many of the past
solutions for accessibility were pretty institutional in design but today there
are numerous alternatives that not only function to improve safety and comfort
but also enhance the look of the space. The manufacturers are all aware that there are 77 million Baby Boomers
who are looking to the future and demanding high end products to make their
homes safe as well as beautiful. Furthermore,
this generation of Boomers is becoming educated in the concept of universal
design – looking to create spaces that are comfortable for all users regardless
of their physical abilities. Think about
it, if your bathroom – or for that matter any
room in your home - functions well for a
wide range of users, young/old, short/tall, wheelchair bound or not, it becomes
more desirable to a wider range of purchasers when it comes time for you to
Question: My husband and I (both of us in our early 80’s) live
in a two story home and it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to climb the
stairs to our bedroom. We do not want to leave this house but want to
remain here for as long as possible. Can
you explain both stair lifts and home elevators and whether either one is a practical
solution for us?
Answer: When deciding
how best to adapt your current home both physical and financial considerations are key. And since I do not know your particular
situation or what your preferred type of housing would be if moving, I can only
review the features, some pros and cons, and costs of both options and leave it
to you to determine what might work best for your situation.
lift is a motorized chair on a track that carries a person up and down the
stairs. Stair lifts are typically attached
directly to the stair treads, not the walls, so installation can be
accomplished in under a day with minimal disruption to the house. In addition
to quick installation, stair lifts can easily be removed when they are no
longer needed. Many companies purchase
used lifts, then refurbish and re-sell them, so it is possible to recuperate
some of the equipment costs when you are no longer in need of the lift.
lift solutions are available for types of stair configurations - inside and outside - and
can be battery operated, A/C operated, or A/C operated with battery backup.
Each requires a grounded electrical outlet positioned near the unit to power it
or to recharge the battery.
The cost of a stair lift is
substantially less than a home elevator. Cost depends on simplicity – the simpler
the unit, the straighter the stairway, the lower the cost. A new stair lift installed on a simple, straight stair should cost under $4,000. Used ones will cost less. Pricing depends largely on the drive mechanism
selected, the options you choose, for example battery-backup, remote controls,
upholstered seat, etc., the length of the track (number of stairs it will
travel), and the type of stairway on which it will be used. There are companies that will rent them which might make sense if needing for a vacation or seasonal home.
Stair lifts do have ongoing costs
and regularly scheduled maintenance is recommended along with annual
replacement of the battery (battery-operated units).
A home elevator is the better
option for someone who is unable, or would have great difficulty transferring into
a stair lift chair. A home elevator is
a significantly more expensive option than a stair lift and one that can be difficult
to incorporate into an existing home.
In order to install a home
elevator, you need to find space for the elevator shaft. The first way to
locate usable space is to look for downstairs closets,pantries, or powder rooms with clear floor space
above on the second floor that can be incorporated into the shaft.
If none of that is available, a shaft could be built by taking space
from an existing downstairs room and space from the corresponding room above to
use for the elevator shaft. This is a definitely
a major (read expensive) remodeling project all one its own and very
disruptive. If there is no interior
space available, an exterior shaft could be built with doorways to the interior
cut into the exterior wall.
Costs of home elevators vary
significantly based on the number of floors spanned, the structural
requirements for the shaft, electrical requirements, and the size and features
of the elevator itself. Lower-end residential elevators begin around $15,000
and can cost upwards of $100,000 for more sophisticated or decorative
Home elevators require regular inspection
and repairs and their maintenance costs are higher than those of a stair lift.
When it comes to deciding what makes the most sense for you, as with any modification for aging in place, you will need to weigh the emotional, physical and financial costs of moving as compared to the cost of the renovation and the value it brings as regards your comfort, safety and independence.
Question: My husband and I are planning to completely
remodel our master bathroom. We
recognize that at this point in our lives it might be smart if we incorporated
features that would allow us to comfortably use our bathroom as we age. What do you recommend for those of us baby
boomers looking to upgrade our bathrooms?
Answer: You might be
surprised to learn that I’d recommend the same bathroom renovations to a baby
boomer as I’d suggest to a younger family or an older couple. Today’s trend is towards universal design –
that design which allows everyone, regardless of age or physical ability, ease
of use. One benefit of universal design
is that as we get older and our lifestyle changes, we can still comfortably use our
home without need for additional adaptations or equipment. As an added bonus, planning renovations from a
universal design perspective ensures an increase in the resale value of your
home and opens to door to many more potential buyers.
So here are universal design elements to consider:
Try to create a bathroom large enough to allow for a 5’
circle in front of the plumbing fixtures.
When space is at a premium, do not create a separate room for the toilet
or shower but instead keep the space open.
Make sure the bathroom doorway is minimally 32” wide,
preferably 36”. Doors should swing out rather
than in or you could install a pocket door. The doorway threshold should be flush with
the adjacent flooring.
All flooring materials must be non-slip. Look for matte finished tiles and natural stone,
instead of glazed tiles or polished stones.
Select a comfort height (16 – 18” height vs. 14-15”) toilet
or wall hung toilet which are space saving and can be mounted at an
individualized height. These toilets are becoming more and more popular for people of all ages.
Install a curb-less shower which has no lip or threshold at
the entry. The floor slopes towards the drain and away from the rest of the
bathroom floor. A swing out, frame-less
door or shower rod and curtain also help keep water within the shower area.
Build in a shower bench which can be sized as large as
you’d like or purchase a folding shower seat that can be mounted to the
Use a handheld shower head mounted on a slide bar. These versatile shower heads are easy to use
when standing or sitting and are an aid when younger children are using the
shower. All come with multiple settings
that allow you to control the flow of water.
Install grab bars in the shower and tub. A typical placement is one vertical bar to
be used as a hand hold when entering a shower/tub and one horizontal bar placed
along the long wall. With the advent of
special mounting brackets that allow grab bars to be installed securely into
drywall faced studs, installation is no longer dependent on having special backing
behind the walls. If you find in the
future that for example, you require grab bars in the toilet area, you’ll be
able to have them installed them as needed. Grab bars now come in so many different styles and colors that they no longer have to look institutional. If your local hardware stores carry nothing other than the chunky standard stainless steel bar, check online. You'll be surprised at the range of choices you have.
Consider a wall mounted sink or floating vanity that would allow for a mobility device or wheelchair
to easily roll up under. If you want
to maintain a vanity cabinet, you can still use a wall mounted vanity –just set
it at least 9” off the floor to allow for a wheelchair footrest underneath.
Choose accessible faucets that do not require a strong grip
to operate. Between single handled or
double handled lever style faucets, sensor, and touch faucets there are many designs
and styles to choose from.
Now with these elements in mind, take a look at these bathrooms
to see how universal design was applied in each.
In every one of these bathrooms you'll find features that not only will adapt to your physical needs as you age, but will also be appreciated by people of any age. We've come a long way in understanding how our traditional design approach to bathrooms has not really been suitable for people throughout their lives. Just remember as you make your selections to think through not just your present lifestyle but what might be in the future.
Question: My husband and I recently retired and decided to move to another area of the country. We sold our larger, family home and purchased a two bedroom condo in our new location. I'm struggling with how to turn this much smaller space into something that feels comfortable. What can you suggest?
Answer: Decorating a small space can be a big challenge, so here are some tips for creating a spacious feeling in your new home.
Stick to a single color palette. A monochromatic room can feel clean and calming. Vary the tones and textures of a single color and keep all of your furniture in a light, muted palette. Break your color scheme with a few saturated accents.
Make your furniture multi-task. Look for furniture that does double duty - a cabinet that folds out into a guest bed, or a desk that expands into a table. These units are completely functional when opened but can easily be minimized when not required to save on space.
Create Illusions. Define different living areas with half walls or open room dividers which help to open up the space visually. Area rugs will do the same thing. Color and contrast also work to make a room appear larger or smaller. The more saturated the wall color is, the more the walls seem to advance towards you creating the feeling of a smaller room. The paler the color, the more the walls seem to recede, making the room appear larger.
Use vertical space as well as horizontal space. Do not ignore the value of wall space. Build shelves under staircases, install floor to ceiling kitchen cabinets, hang pots over your stove and utensils from a wall over a work counter. You can also install open or closed cabinetry over a desk and a built-in medicine cabinet in the bathroom.
Bigger is better. A lot of small furniture can make a room feel cluttered. Instead, arrange the room around a few prominent pieces to make the room feel sleeker. Lightweight pieces in simple designs work best. Furniture with legs make your rooms appear larger as do glass tables.
Work from the top down. An overhead focal point draws the eye upward and increases the visual height of a room. Choose a ceiling color a few shades lighter than your walls for an uninterrupted floor-to-ceiling flow.
Make every closet count. Custom designing your closets will give you maximum use of that very valuable space. Don't settle for a simple rod and shelf -- you'll be amazed at how much storage you can get in a well designed closet.
you love. Keeping
things simple helps a small space seem uncluttered, but a house becomes a home when it’s filled with things you love.
Hang the chandelier you found at the flea market, display the carving
from one of your travels, and hang that well loved quilt. Not only will your favorite accessories make
your home more interesting to others but they will give you a sense that you
are indeed still home.
Question: My aunt is 78 years old and lives in a two
story home. She is starting to have
difficulty managing the stairs up to her bedroom and bathroom due to a
developing arthritic condition. She intends to stay in her home for as long as
she can but does not have the funds for any major remodeling. Would a stair chair make sense and how much
do they cost?
a stair lift chair is certainly a practical solution that can be a
cost-effective alternative to remodeling, depending
on the configuration of the staircase.
For example, if the staircase is straight, has no turns, and is not
particularly narrow, you can expect the cost to run between $3500 and $4500
including installation. On the other
hand, if your aunt’s staircase is curved, or there are other factors that might
make installing the stair chair lift more difficult, the cost can rise significantly.
Stair lifts do come in varying models with varying price tags, so researching the
features offered in different models is important to controlling the cost.
Stair lifts can be rented and can also be purchased pre-owned. And while Medicare does not cover the cost of
this equipment, there might be some federal funds available for this type of
home modification. Your local Area
Agency on Aging might have additional information on fund availability.
For more detailed information
on stair lifts, read our blog on Managing Stairs
Question: Are there cell phones that are easier for
seniors to use? My mother often doesn’t
hear her phone ring and never seems to remember how to retrieve her voicemail.
Answer: Many older people have trouble with cell phones because they are too
complex to navigate, are not intuitive, and have screens too small to read. There are a few, however, that have been
designed specifically for the senior market. Here are just two that are available:
Just5 was designed for seniors or people with hearing or
eyesight problems. This phone is simple yet very attractive and well designed.
Features include big buttons for easy
dialing, a “speaking” keypad, which confirms the buttons pressed, an emergency
button, amplified sound, simple keyboard lock and a long lasting battery. There
are no confusing menus, options or settings to frustrate the user. The phone itself is approximately $120, monthly
fees are low, and there are no contracts required. The Emporia Life Plus was designed for easy reading and the buttons and keypad are easy to
use. The phone is meant to be used closed most of the time. The default screen
is the contact list, so there is no menu navigation when you want to call
someone; just arrow down to the number and hit the big green button. There is a
large emergency button on the back of the phone. Once pressed, it will dial up
to 5 numbers that can be programmed into it. As an added bonus, this phone will
run off AAA batteries when the Li-Ion battery runs down. It offers speakerphone
and text messaging as well.
Question: My Dad is now having difficulty bending to
sit and stand up from his bathroom toilet.
He refuses to use the full toilet commode that goes over the toilet, claiming
it’s uncomfortable. We’ve looked at
comfort height toilets but they are still not high enough for him to easily
maneuver. We’ve also looked at the high toilet
seats that fit on top of the toilet but we’re afraid those will not be very
steady. How do we solve this problem?
Answer: You can use a toilet riser to raise the
height of the toilet. Typically by installing a riser, you can raise the height of
the toilet up to 4”. A toilet riser is bolted permanently to the floor to
create a solid and sturdy base for the toilet.
There are many benefits to choosing this approach over the toilet
commode or a high toilet seat (aka toilet seat riser):
A riser is aesthetically
more pleasing than either a free standing toilet commode or booster toilet seat
that attaches onto the toilet. Because the
riser is placed underneath the toilet, it doesn't draw attention to itself. It blends in to the bathroom and doesn’t look
like medical device.
A riser is permanent,
doesn’t need to be taken on and off the toilet, and is much easier to clean
than either of the other choices.
You do not sacrifice
comfort when you lift your toilet from the bottom. You can re-use your existing toilet and toilet
For those who want a
more customized look or height, you can also build a platform/riser under your toilet. Just remember to keep the size of the riser minimal so that it does not extend beyond the toilet seat edge and cause a tripping hazard.
have a guest bathroom that our parents use when they visit. We’d like to install grab bars in the bathtub
and shower area. How do we decide what size grab bars to use
and where to place them?
Answer: Many older adults
prefer a grab bar that is 1” – 1 ¼” in diameter as it’s easier to grip,
especially for those with a reduced hand grip. And while grab bars come in
smooth or textured finishes, those that are textured help prevent soapy hands
from slipping. Some grab bars even have
specialty slip resistant designs, like finger grips on the underside of the bar,
to aid in maintaining a firm grip.
While the placement of wall mounted grab bars depends on the
wall structure, plumbing layout, whether bathing or showering, and the
user’s height and range of reach, there are general guidelines you can follow.
On the shorter side wall opposite the showerhead –
Locating a bar here will aid in balance when stepping in or out of a tub or
shower. You can either install a bar vertically or
horizontally on this wall. I prefer a
vertical bar at this location, 18” in length, installed no more than 9” from
the outside edge of the tub wall. The
bottom of the grab bar should be approximately 32”-36” above the floor. If you prefer to place the bar horizontally,
install a 24” bar, approximately 33”-36” above the floor.
2. On the longer wall – Locating a bar here
offers support while standing in the bath or shower. If placing the bar horizontally, use a 24” –
48” bar (depending on the length of the shower area), 33”-36” above the
floor. The horizontal placement assists a user when facing in either direction but is limited to a fixed height. Alternately,
you can install the bar at a 45 degree angle which allows individuals of different heights to access the bar comfortably and will help when getting up
from a shower chair or from the bathtub floor. A diagonal bar also allows for a more natural
and functional hand placement with less stress on the wrist. The lowest end of
the bar should sit approximately 9” above the tub rim and slope upwards towards
The safest way to install a grab bar is
either directly into the studs, into plywood blocking that has been installed
behind the wall, or with special fasteners that meet the requirement of
sustaining 250 lbs. of dead load force. Grab
bars should never be installed with only plastic anchors and screws directly
into tile and wall board since they may not hold up if pulled on during a fall.
Question: We’ve seen suction style grab bars and grab
bars that mount on the tub. Are these
safe to use?
Answer: There are companies that offer grab bars that
suction, clamp, or screw onto the side of the tub wall. I would not recommend using these style bars
as I have witnessed how easily they can shift or completely detach when being
used to get in and out of a tub. Maybe, when used properly, these bars can help
to stabilize balance BUT one has to be extremely careful not to
pull on them. Installing a grab bar is not
a place to skimp and what appears to be an easy, inexpensive solution could wind
up being quite costly. With the new
fasteners available today, there is little reason not to securely mount a standard grab bar
on the wall, or to use a flip down bar or floor to ceiling pole instead.
Question: I’ve put tub strips on the bottom of my bathtub to keep from slipping but the tile on the bathroom floor itself gets slippery when it gets wet. Is there anything I can do to make my floor less slippery?
Answer: Today most builders and remodelers install non-slip tile on bath and shower floors to prevent exactly the problem you describe. If you are not planning on changing your floor tile, there are numerous topical applications designed to invisibly increase traction and make your tile, marble, stone, and even wood floors non-slip when wet. The coating does not change the flooring’s color or texture. You can find non slip coatings for your bathroom floor in tile stores or online. Look for the names InvisaTread, SureStep, Grip, It, or Tile Grip, just to name a few. All are easy to install – clean the floor, spread the coating over the floor so that the floor remains evenly wet, let it sit for 20-30 minutes then rinse. Similar to any sealant, the coating will need to be reapplied every couple of years depending on how frequently you wash your floor.
Question: We have two steps leading to our front entrance. My husband is now in a wheelchair and it’s impossible for me to maneuver his chair on these steps. Do you have any suggestions?
Answer: There are many lightweight aluminum ramps on the market that will take care of this problem. First, figure out how long a ramp you need by measuring the total height of the steps. For every inch of height, you will need 1 foot of ramp. So for example, let’s say that each step leading to your front door is 4” high. You will need a ramp that measures 8’ long. You can easily find sources for ramps by going online. You’ll find solid ramps, ramps that fold up (suitcase ramps,) and ramps with and without handrails. The differences have to do with the weight of the ramp, its length, whether or not you need handrails, and how portable you'd like it to be. Just make sure you don’t skimp on the length of the ramp – if you are in between two sizes go UP. You don’t want to feel as if you are losing control of the wheelchair because the ramp is set too steeply. You might also want to consider creating a landscaped, bermed walkway . Your walkway can be sloped from the front door, will provide the same ease of access as a ramp but be much more attractive.