Home Renovation for the Golden Years

Home renovations often center on upgrading the kitchen cabinets or selecting a new paint color for the bedroom, but as long as you are at it, a well-thought-out redesign might also include modifications to help you stay in your home as you grow older.

These alterations can start with simple things, like installing a grab bar in the bathroom or replacing doorknobs with lever handles. But if your budget allows for an entire kitchen or bathroom overhaul, it’s best to think about how you physically may change in the years to come and plan accordingly, said Heather Brin, the principal architect of Aging in Place Architecture in Port Jefferson, N.Y.

“These renovations are all about maintaining independence,” Ms. Brin said. “So if you have back pain now, then it’s smart to think about getting pullout shelves to minimize bending.”

Take Chandrakant Sheth of Woodside, Queens, a retired engineer and television repairman. At age 81, he has kept healthy with daily walks and is proud that he moves along at a faster clip than his 50-year-old son. He suddenly found himself less mobile, however, after he fell and fractured his right arm in September when a hurried passenger knocked into him as he stepped off a subway escalator.

Buttoning a shirt or taking a shower is now difficult and time consuming, he said. But he is able to navigate the bathroom well enough, since he had installed a grab bar in the bathroom several years ago for his wife, who has since died.

“I never had to use the bar until now, but I’m grateful it was already there,” he said.

More than one out of four Americans age 65 and older fall each year and one in five falls cause serious injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The city Department for the Aging said there were nearly one million adults age 65 and older living in the five boroughs of New York in 2010, but that number is expected to rise to about 1.35 million in 2030. As the city’s population ages, officials are urging homeowners and landlords to make age-in-place fixes.

“Something as simple and cost-effective as installing a grab bar can prevent debilitating falls and literally save lives,” said Donna M. Corrado, the commissioner of the Department for the Aging.

More than 85 percent of older Americans want to stay in their current home rather than move elsewhere, a 2010 survey by AARP found.

Iraida Gonzalez, 68, is one of them. She wants to live for as long as she can in Northern Manhattan in a building that is part of the Fort George Vistas NORC, an acronym for Naturally Occurring Retirement Community.

Ms. Gonzalez and her husband, Serafin Baldera, 73, have had numerous health problems, including temporary sight loss, diabetes, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. She used to grab the towel rack in the bathroom to help her get around. “It was scary because I knew it wasn’t the best thing to use,” she said.

Ms. Gonzalez recently received three free grab bars, a sturdy bathmat with suction cups to prevent it from moving, and some night lights, thanks to a grant secured by Isabella Geriatric Center, the nonprofit group that operates the NORC program in her building.

The organization worked with students from the Columbia University School of Nursing to conduct home assessments to identify residents at risk for falls based on their medications, medical history, level of activity and fall history. Then Charles Morano, a physical therapist and the owner ofMorano Rehabilitation Home Services in Manhattan, conducted home safety assessments for the individuals found to be in danger.

Workers installed grab bars for Iris Boteler, 99, who said she had difficulty walking because of arthritis and other ailments. “You need things to support you,” said Ms. Boteler, who has lived in her building, also a part of the Fort George Vistas NORC, for about 45 years.

Depending on the items used, minor modifications can cost from several hundred to about $2,000. But if you have more money to spend, customization is key, said Barbara S. Roth, an interior designer and a founder of Camille Rossy, a design firm in Manhattan.

Ms. Roth described a client — a woman in her early 50s with multiple sclerosis — who wanted more cabinet space for her small, dated Murray Hill kitchen. But a place for a stool near the stove and counter was deemed as important as storage because it was getting harder for the woman to stand for long periods.

Although no one likes to talk about age, health and physical disabilities, Ms. Roth said it is important to discuss these issues so an expensive renovation doesn’t become obsolete in a few years.

Because the client’s illness can lead to blurred or double vision, Ms. Roth also talked about installing extra lights and the importance of color contrast in the kitchen so the client could easily determine where the stovetop ended and the counter began. Her client chose ivory and white for the kitchen cabinets and backsplash, and black for the stove top.

“The goal was to not make the new kitchen look institutional,” she said.

For large or open kitchens, installing a movable island, either on wheels or with legs that have felt on the bottom, can be an easy addition, said Victor A. Mirontschuk, an architect and chairman of EDI International, an architectural firm with an office in Manhattan.

“Movable islands give people flexibility because you can push it out of the way,” to provide space when needed, he said, if a walker or wheelchair becomes necessary.