1. Make sure the main entrance and at least one other exterior passage are accessible to everyone. They should have no steps and thresholds that are no more than 1/2 inch high.
2. Entering with packages and other items can be difficult, so include a covered entry and provide a shelf or bench both inside and outside the door. Provide a clear, level space on both sides of the door.
3. A motion detector can ensure that the entry is lighted when you arrive home. For convenience and peace of mind, install a home-automation system, including an intercom system that is linked to the front entry.
4. Equip the entry door and other doors with easy-to-use levers instead of knobs. Electronic locksets can replace keys for entry doors.
5. Thinking of adding a powder room on the first floor? Consider a full bath instead. If all bedrooms are upstairs, a full bath on the main level allows you to convert a den or other main-level space to a bedroom later. “That way, you can have one-floor living if you need it,” says Charlotte Wade, director of the National Center for Seniors Housing Project.
7. Make it easy on the eyes. Visual acuity often declines with age, so plan accordingly. Include task lighting in the kitchen, bathroom, and reading or hobby areas. Provide plenty of light for staircases. Use contrasting colors for stair treads, countertops, and other surfaces.
8. Open up the floor plan. Provide easy circulation among rooms, and minimize or eliminate stairs between rooms. Built-in storage, such as bookshelves and entertainment centers, reduces clutter and frees up floor space. “A lot of these features just make the home feel more spacious and airy,” Wade says. “Universal design does not have to have a medicinal or institutional feel.”
9. Look for contractors and designers who have earned the Certified Aging in Place Specialist, or CAPS, designation from the National Center for Seniors Housing Project.
10. To prevent slips and make it easier to use a wheelchair or walker, use smooth-surface, slip-resistant flooring or low-pile carpeting. Minimize use of throw rugs.