Some people are going to require very few adjustments and modifications to their homes, and some are going to need a more extensive approach. Budget, lifestyle, and degree of acceptance of proposed solutions also have a lot to do with what ultimately is decided upon and implemented for each individual client and the home.
For starters, we can determine a lot of potential improvements by looking at how people use their living space and deciding what is missing or needs to be added. It is an intuitive approach - observe the home environment to determine what is missing that would be beneficial. Not all spaces are the same. Some may already have lever door handles or rocker light switches. Those that don't should get them.
A great place to begin our evaluation is in the client's bathroom. We notice that there is no way to support themselves as they enter and exit their shower or tub. All it takes is a momentary distraction or lapse of thought and they could slip. Additionally, anyone can get an occasional foot or leg cramp, twist or sprain their ankle, lose their balance, have a cold or sinus issue that presents temporary dizziness, or take medication that makes them light-headed or dizzy and subject to weakness or balance loss. A foot or lower leg injury (even if not severe) may cause someone to avoid putting all of their weight on that extremity. All this means that it's great to have some way to support oneself when using the tub or shower.
While in the bath, look for a folding shower seat that is attached to the side or back wall to be deployed when needed and folded out of the way between uses. It serves a similar purpose as the support or assist bar - people often need to rest or support themselves in the shower for a variety of reasons from illness, injury, fatigue, or over-exertion. A built-in bench or seat is a good choice also, but it takes more to construct and can't be set aside when not needed. Depending on the size of the shower (especially if it is smaller), a permanent bench may restrict entry to the shower and movement within it.
There are many other areas in the bath that can be added or adapted to make it better for anyone as they are aging in place - even with particular physical needs or requirements. Looking at the potential for people slipping on mats and rugs that cover glossy floors could mean removing them or anchoring them securely. Mirrors generally are inadequate for people to get a full view of themselves. There may not be adequate lighting or electrical outlets either.
Getting down the hallway or getting through the bathroom or closet doors may present challenges because they were built at a time when smaller dimensions were acceptable. While not always an easy or inexpensive fix, addressing these matters are intuitive because it's easy to see that they don't work very well for the occupants of the residence.
Anything - in any room (inside or out) - that we spot as presenting issues without really looking to see how someone might use and interact with that space, we can suggest changes to rectify the situation. Again, these are intuitive because they cry out to us for a solution - with no regard for any physical issues that someone might have. We notice them because they apply to most people.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-Master Instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.