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Plan home changes for senior years

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What homeowner, young or old, isn't interested in affordable and functional home improvements that can be enjoyed for years to come? For seniors 65 and older, well-thought-out additions or upgrades are necessary for continued comfort and safety.

Aging in place, or modifying your home to better accommodate changing needs, can be a major undertaking. Building entrance and access ramps, widening entrances and doorways, adding a first-floor bedroom and bath, and other structural accommodations can be costly. But many other options that add both convenience and safety don't require major expenditures.

Installing grab bars in baths and bedrooms to help with standing and balance, switching to lever-handled doorknobs, lowering electrical switches and raising electrical outlets are among the most frequently completed non-budget-busting projects, according to the 2015 "Aging in Place Survey Report" from HomeAdvisor. Replacing slippery tile or vinyl flooring with slip-resistant surfaces is also a must, as falls are among the leading cause of injury to seniors.

Adequate lighting

Adequate lighting is an important health and safety consideration for seniors, since vision changes rapidly in our later years. Universal Design guidelines call for increasing both task lighting and general room illumination as we age. Research published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology suggests that natural light may be better for aging eyes than artificial light.

The health benefits of natural light are well documented, from boosting your body's ability to produce vitamin D to helping improve mood and fight seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Natural light also enhances virtually any decor, while helping reduce dependence on artificial light and lowering electricity bills.

Increased ventilation

Indoor air quality, according to an EPA study, can be worse than the air outside your home, and many people spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to respiratory problems, eye irritation, headaches and even depression.

Adding fresh air skylights is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to achieve balanced, glare-free natural light, as well as passive ventilation in virtually any space. 

Fresh air skylights are able to open and close, with the available feature of being remote controlled and closing automatically in case of rain. The skylights can be further enhanced by adding solar-powered blinds.

Home monitoring and security

Other options that address functionality and living safely include home automation systems and Smart Home technologies, security systems, in-home health and activity monitoring to detect falls, and cell phone apps that control thermostats, lighting and other systems in the home. Additional resources are available at the HomeAdvisor "Aging in Place" site.

When is the best time to plan for a long life as a senior?

"Too many of us wait until we reach a health or financial crisis to plan for getting older,"  said Marty Bell, executive director of the National Aging in Place Council, in a 2015 report. "We plan our careers, we plan to send our children to college, we plan our vacations, but we don't plan to age. And yet the evidence is there that those who do accept they are going to get older, and make plans in advance, have a considerably better later life."

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