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Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place: The Entrance

Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place: The Entrance

Living independently in your own home for as long as you can is important to many aging Americans. However, not all homes are suitable for individuals with physical limitations or disabilities. A key to aging in place and living independently is making sure your home can accommodate your needs, as well as those of anyone in the house with you.

This guide is meant to help you think about what the entrance to your home may need as you and your loved ones age to keep it safe and accessible.

Area to Focus on: Stairs

Stairs — or even a single step — can be the biggest barrier to entry into a home as you age. A home with many steps may not be suitable for aging in place.  Here are some things to ask yourself if you have to navigate a stairway:

  • Are the stairs completely stable — with no loose boards or railings?
  • Do you have non-slip or textured treads on the stairs?
  • Can you clearly see the edge of each step? If not, consider adding reflective tape or paint to the edges.
  • Is there a railing on both sides? Most of the time, one railing is not enough. This is because people are often stronger on one side of their body. If that is the case for you, having just one railing means you will only be able to use your strong side when entering or exiting the home — but not both.
  • Are the railings close enough that you can use them both at the same time?
  • If your staircase cannot/does not have a railing on both sides, do you have a sturdy cane that can help you on the non-railing side?
  • Do the railings go all the way to flat ground?
  • Even with modifications, can your loved ones/visitors navigate the stairway? It is important to keep in mind that a home should not just be accessible to yourself, but also to those who are going to be living/visiting with you.
  • Even with modifications, could you navigate the stairway if you were to become seriously injured? Creating an accessible entryway to your home is not just critical for those who are 80-plus; it can be critical for those in their 50s or 40s as well. Let us say you are 52 and sustain a serious leg injury that renders you unable to bear weight on one foot. Ask yourself, could you still navigate your staircase?
  • Do you have enough upper-body strength to use stairs? If not, you may have to consider installing a ramp or an outdoor stair lift.

Information About Ramps

If you use a wheelchair, have difficulty walking, or lack the strength to use stairs, installing a ramp may be the best option for you. Typically, accessibility contractors and certain medical suppliers can either install the ramps for you or point you to someone who can.

Questions to ask yourself when considering a ramp include:

  • Do you have the space for it? Typically, it is required that you have a foot of ramp for every inch of elevation change. This is to ensure that the ramp is not too steep.
  • Can you ascend and descend the ramp comfortably? Some people only consider if they can go up the ramp. But going down is just as important. To some people, especially those in wheelchairs, even descending a minor slope can be daunting. Wheelchairs can pick up speed very quickly.
  • Do you want to install the ramp permanently? Temporary ramps may be an option.

Entrances Other Than the Front Door

Sometimes the front door is not the most ideal entrance to your home. If you have physical limitations or a disability, you may want to select a different entryway to be your primary access point to the home.  It could be a backdoor or a door that enters through the garage.

A home accessibility expert could evaluate your home to help you determine the easiest and safest entryway.

Inspect All Surfaces

Staircases, driveways, sidewalks, and other walkways need to be stable, clear of debris and trip hazards, and non-slip.  Questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is any cement chipping up?
  • Are there any loose bricks/boards/rocks?
  • Does any surface become slick when wet?
  • Are all surfaces even?
  • Are there any trip hazards — like garden hoses, overgrown plants, loose stones, electrical cords, or clutter?

Importance of House Numbers

One thing a lot of people tend to overlook is how visible their house numbers are from the street. Simply having them on your mailbox is not good enough.

In the event of an emergency, you do not want emergency responders searching for your home. Make it as easy as possible for them to find your address.

What is the best solution? Purchase large, reflective, numbered stickers. They can be found in just about any hardware store and are available for online purchase.

Put them over your front door and, preferably, at least one other place on your home where they are highly visible from the street.

Benefits of An Alarm System

Even if you feel you live in a safe neighborhood, it is a good idea to install an alarm system. It not only helps keep predators out but also loved ones in.  For example, an alarm system — with sensors on doors and windows — can alert you when a loved one with dementia gets confused and tries to walk out of the home.

Lighting and Visibility

Install good lights at all entryways (preferably motion-activated) to make sure visibility is not a problem. In addition, make sure all walkways and staircases are well-lit.  Inexpensive solar lights (available at most hardware stores) can also help keep a walkway lit without much installation trouble — and no electrical costs!

Other Questions: A Helpful Checklist

Here is a helpful list of other questions you will want to answer about your entryway:

  • Are your doorways at least 36 inches wide? This width helps accommodate wheelchairs and walkers.
  • Do you have a bench or table just outside or inside your primary doorway? This can give you a place to set bags and groceries down, so you are not juggling them while trying to unlock the front door.
  • Does your door have a peephole in it? This can help you identify visitors to your home before you open the door.
  • Does your door have a slide latch or chain? This can allow you to speak with someone outside the door without having to fully unlock/open it.
  • Are your mats and rugs secured to the floor? Make sure any mats or rugs you use have non-slip grips and lay flat with no corners sticking up.
  • Are the steps inside your home non-slip? Are they textured or have secure carpeting that lies flat?
  • Do you have secure handrails on the steps inside your home? Preferably, you should have a handrail on both sides of every staircase.
  • Do you have a bag of salt by your door? Spreading salt in the winter can help prevent ice from building up outside your door and becoming a slip-and-fall hazard.

Lutheran Senior Services offers a full range of life planned at home services for aging adults:

  • Information and Referral
  • Care Management
  • Private Home Care
  • Home Health Care
  • Hospice Care
  • Palliative Care
  • PACE


Call Aging Answers for more information at 314.446.2475.

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