Ultimate Guide to Aging in Place

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“Aging in place” is a new term for an old concept. Instead of looking into an assisted living facility or community, it’s the process of living out your golden years at home. 

And it’s gaining popularity. According to an AARP survey, “87% of aging adults 65+ say they want to stay in their current home or community as they age.”

The best way to prepare is to look at common risks and create a plan with your loved ones for the coming decades. Our guide addresses the risks of aging in place and how you can age successfully in your own home—even if you live alone.

Video: How to Have Tough Conversations About Aging with Sally Russell

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1. Stay stimulated

Taking care of yourself is more important than any home modification. Your mental, physical, and emotional health can ensure years of happy aging in place surrounded by the people and things you care about.

Maintain relationships

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Those relationships you’ve built from your years in school, the military, or previous jobs are valuable. Don’t be afraid to reconnect with old friends from the past. Chances are they’d love to hear from you. 

Maintaining these connections will ensure that you have loved ones to laugh with and plenty of memories to go around—whether in person or through holiday cards, emails, texts, video chats, or social media.

If you haven't already, consider getting a cell phone designed for seniors so you can talk to your friends anywhere.

Make new friends

Making new friends can be a challenge as you get older, but these new connections can keep you young. 

Find local meetup groups through your place of worship or community centers based on your interests. Find activities through exercise groups or enroll in classes to learn new skills and meet others. Volunteering is another great way to meet new people, stay active, and maintain a purpose. 

You can also turn to the internet to meet new friends. There are message boards, online book clubs, and online communities for almost any interest out there. From genealogy to woodworking, you can meet others around the world who share your interests.

Avoiding scams online

All that extra screen time can put you in the line of sight of online con artists who target older adults with clever online scams. But don’t let them scare you off. Familiarize yourself with common scams targeted at seniors to avoid trouble.

Keep your favorite hobbies

Whether it’s gardening, watching sports, reading about history, or other hobbies, don’t let your hobbies fall by the wayside. Staying mentally and emotionally stimulated feeds your brain and keeps you motivated.

Stay active as long as possible

You don’t need to be an athlete to stay active. Even a simple evening walk after dinner or an exercise class can keep your blood pumping and bones healthy. 

For caregivers of an older person, you can share simple exercise routines with them that they can do sitting down.

Our experts on staying independent longer

Being active mentally and physically can help you stay independent longer. “Walking is one of the best things you can do because it forces calcium out to the bones,” says SafeWise health expert Sally Russell, MN, CMSRN, CN. Just walking a little bit every day can help you avoid fractures and bone issues down the road. 

Russell also suggests reading the paper and watching the news to stay engaged with life outside your home.

2. Make age-appropriate home modifications

It's time to look at your home's safety through the lens of accessibility and fall prevention. Falls are a leading cause of injury in those over 65 and hospitalize thousands of seniors every year.2 

Even if you’re steady on your feet now, a misplaced rug or slippery bathtub could leave you hurt and unable to get help. Putting safeguards and safety devices in place now can prevent serious injuries later. 

Single-floor living

Stairs can pose a challenge as we age. Aching joints, shortness of breath, and uncooperative feet can make it painful or downright unsafe to go up and down stairs throughout the day. While stair lifts are certainly an option, sometimes the simplest solution is to live solely on the first floor.

That usually means moving your bedroom downstairs and using the first-floor bathroom, if applicable. Reserve the upstairs rooms for guests or storage. 

Making stairs safer

If your home just isn't designed for single-floor living, that's okay—you don't have to move or pay for a complete remodel. Instead, make the stairs as safe as possible with some extra modifications:

  • Install a second handrail on the other wall so you can stabilize yourself with both hands.
  • Remove slippery carpet and install traction tape on each tread. 
  • Keep the stairs well-lit with motion-activated lights.

Try not to rush up or down the stairs, since that's when you're more likely to lose your balance or misplace your feet. Also, my grandpa recently shared how he stays safe when navigating his staircase: He goes down backwards! Apparently it feels more stable. 

Secure outdoor railings and stairs

Don't forget about outdoor stairs too. Wooden stairs need regular maintenance or they'll rot—and that's a nasty fall waiting to happen. 

Outdoor stairs also need to have secure railings. If you can wiggle the existing railing, it's not sturdy enough. It should be rock-solid to support your full weight.

Even the one or two stairs you successfully navigated in your younger years can become tricky to climb without something to hold onto. Don't wait until you've tumbled sideways into a bush (true story) to realize the benefits of a railing. 

Bathroom modifications

Slippery bathroom surfaces, high-walled tubs, too-low toilet seats, and out-of-reach toiletries are just a few examples of bathroom safety concerns older people face. With so many things to talk about in this one room, we created a separate guide: How to Improve Bathroom Safety for Seniors.

Bedroom modifications

Make sure your bed is easy to sit on and doesn't require you to climb into it. Lower the legs on the bed frame, choose a lower bed frame, or opt for a thinner box spring. If you can't sit on the edge of your bed and comfortably put on your shoes, make sure there's a sturdy chair nearby for such a purpose.

You may also need to install bed rails to stabilize yourself as you get in and out of bed.

Keep the foot of any sheets or blankets firmly tucked into the mattress. They can pose a trip hazard if they get loose and catch your feet.

Install motion-activated lights near your bed to guide you during late-night bathroom sessions. Keep dirty laundry in a hamper, not on the floor, so there's one less thing to trip over. 

Kitchen modifications

Re-arrange your kitchen cupboards so you're not excessively bending and reaching for heavy things. If you can afford a little renovation, install pull-down shelves in upper cabinets and pull-out shelves in lower cabinets. Otherwise, move everyday items within easy reach and use a sturdy step stool for everything else. 

It also may be time to lovingly pass down your favorite cast iron cookware and start using lightweight options.  

Get more ideas in our Room-by-Room Safety Guide for Seniors.

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Big changes don’t happen overnight

“Because we see them [our loved ones] every day, we don’t always see that there might be a risk factor now that wasn’t there before. We don’t notice the subtle changes as [they] become a little less steady or a little less clear,” says Russell.

  • Be observant. Watch for new challenges that may arise. Maybe they aren’t as steady on their feet or can’t see as well in low lighting. 
  • Be proactive. Don’t wait for an accident to happen to tape down the carpet or improve the lighting. Anticipating your loved one’s needs can prevent injuries. 

3. Re-think your emergency plans

Evaluate your usual emergency plans from an aging-in-place perspective and modify them accordingly. For example, if the door to your tornado shelter is getting too heavy for you to open, make sure you get it replaced with lightweight material. Network with neighbors to figure out an evacuation plan if you no longer drive and there's a threat of wildfire or flooding. 

And when prepping for house fires, make sure all exits out of your home are safe, whether that means they have a ramp, railing, or non-slip surface. 

Yes, medical alerts are worth it

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Few people realize they need a medical alert system until something scary happens and they wish they'd had one. We hope you won't wait that long—as a rule of thumb, if you live alone and are over 65, it's time to get a medical alert device. 

Medical alerts run the gamut from traditional Life Alert-esque systems to full-fledged smartwatches and smart speakers. The best choice is one you'll actually use, so make sure you're comfortable with how it looks, feels, and works. 

We have tons of resources to help with your medical alert research:

Leave care instructions

If you do have a medical emergency, leave care instructions for first responders. A commonly used document is the Vial of Life, which is kept on the fridge and contains information about current medications, medical history, preferred doctors, and emergency contacts. 

Smartphones also give you the option to share similar emergency data. Instead of typing in your PIN, the first responder taps the emergency icon to see whatever information you've agreed to share.

4. Think about transportation and mobility

Getting around may be easy now (minus some popping joints here and there), but things change as you age. 

Consider how you’ll get around in the future. Whether it’s from your bed to the bathroom or down the street to the grocery store, our ability to move changes as we age in place.

Mobility devices

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You don’t have to stop doing what you love, but how you get from point A to point B may change. With a little help from mobility devices, you can still get around and enjoy your independence while remaining comfortable and safe.

Folding cane chairs are handheld devices that fold out into stools or seats. You can find ones big enough to settle into at an outdoor concert or museum or simple ones that give you a quick rest while waiting in line. Most can support up to 250 pounds comfortably and act as a cane and a chair, but you can find others that can hold more. 

Walkers prevent falls by giving you something to lean onto if you feel dizzy or weak. The best ones have built-in seats so you can stop and rest at any time. 

Mobility scooters can make trips down the street quicker, and slim models may work well in the home.  They’re expensive and require maintenance, but they're a good solution if walking gets too painful and you don't have sufficient upper body strength for a traditional wheelchair. 

Wheelchair ramps and stair-assist chairs can make your home more accessible if you use a wheelchair, walker, or power scooter. You can find portable ramps you can keep in your vehicle or longer ones that can tackle the steps on your front porch. Generally, the longer the ramp, the higher the incline it can handle. 

Practice safe driving

There’s a level of risk for drivers of any age. But as you get older and your eyesight and reaction time decreases, getting behind the wheel can get riskier. 

Driving later in life depends on maintaining your eyesight and staying safe from distractions like your cell phone or GPS device. You can also make modifications to your car to increase safety and comfort. Learn more in our guide: How to Help Aging Parents Drive Safer.

Other GPS vehicle trackers can help you if your car gets stolen and even provide regular maintenance reports. 

As you age, familiarize yourself with rideshare programs in your area like Uber and Lyft. You can also check out Uber Health, a rideshare program specifically for doctor visits and health checks. 

Make a plan for alternative transportation

There are many senior transportation options beyond the bus, train, Uber or Lyft. Check out our guide to the Best Transportation and Ride Share Programs for Seniors.

5. Take advantage of home automation

Home automation makes aging in place more convenient, safe, and comfortable than ever before. As there's a lot to cover, we've created a separate guide that dives into the nitty-gritty: How Smart Home Tech Can Help Older Adults

Have the tough conversations now

Thinking about the future is tough, especially when it comes to big issues like aging in place. Making arrangements for your future self with your loved ones about the coming years can save them from tough decisions. 

Discuss the turning points and how long you want to be independent. Help create a plan with them about what they should do when you are unable to safely live alone. Will you live with them or move into an assisted living community

Making these decisions now and preparing for the future will give them confidence that they’re providing the level of care you want.

FAQ for caregivers

As our advisory expert Sally Russell told us, “If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t take care of somebody else.” When you’re caring for an older loved one, you still need to take time to recharge for yourself. 

  • Hire a part-time in-home caregiver, also known as respite care
  • Share responsibilities with other loved ones
  • Get advice from a counselor

Declining hygiene and nutrition are two major indicators your aging parent or loved one needs more supervision. Usually, independent seniors can cook and clean, change their own clothing, and wash themselves without much trouble. 

Watch for these signs: 

  • Unable to change clothes
  • Eats dangerously old or expired food
  • Stops bathing themselves

If you decide to invite your older loved one to live with you, give them their own space for privacy. Smart home devices can help them make adjustments to lighting and temperature to stay comfortable. And check every room for slipping hazards to make your home safer

Related articles on SafeWise

  1. AARP Livable Communities, “Baby Boomer Facts And Figures.” Accessed May 2, 2023. 
  2. National Council on Aging, “Get the Facts on Fall Prevention,” March 2023. Accessed May 2, 2023. 
Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over eight years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She is a certified Safe Sleep Ambassador and has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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