When it comes to living at home, how you get in and out of your house may be one of the last things to come to mind. But for people looking to age in place, it should be at the forefront of your concerns, according to experts.

There is a lot to consider when weighing the possibility of growing older within the comforts of your own home.

Is my bathroom safe? Am I eating right? Am I spending enough time with other people and taking care of myself? These are all legitimate and important questions you are likely to encounter along the way — and they're all issues we've tackled in some form or fashion during the course of this series. But there are some fundamental, day-one things that need to be addressed early on in the aging-in-place process.

How are you getting in and out of your home safely?

Entryways, according to Richard Acree, an Americans with Disabilities Act inspector and Certified Aging in Place Specialist, are among the most difficult and vital challenges for people to confront when looking at the long-term viability of their homes.

"All it takes is one step, and that may make it insurmountable for someone with mobility issues," said Acree, who owns the consulting firm ADA Inspections Nationwide. "That's why it's so important for people who are looking to age in place to look at minimizing or eliminating steps, because if you end up in a wheelchair you don't want to have to try to figure out how to get in and out of the house in that situation."

Acree urges people to think long term when it comes to preparing their home for the future. You could be in outstanding condition, perfectly healthy and mobile in your current state, but who's to say if that will be the case 10, 15 or 20 years from now? A steep path to your front door might not mean much to you now, but at some point one or two steps could become a block, Acree says.

"A lot of aging in place starts from a wheelchair, and trying to figure out how to get them in and out of the house can be a difficult challenge," said Acree.

Having at least one no-step entry to your house can make all the difference.

Zero elevation change from the sidewalk to the front door is ideal, according to Acree. If you can get a flat sidewalk that leads to a wide, easily accessible door, with the inside of the home the same level as the walkway outside the door, that's perfect. But we don't live in a perfect world, and adjustments can be made. Modifying the step up at the main doorway so that it's a half inch or less is vital, Acree said, as is making sure that the door is at least 32 inches wide, which is the minimum ADA standards that allow for wheelchair access. The bigger the better, he says, because you have to account for turning the wheelchair and whether the door opens forward or backward.

"You really want at least 36 inches," he said.

Making sure there is maneuvering space in front of the door for those in a wheelchair, and that the space doesn't collect standing water, is also important. Providing a cover of some sort to protect against the elements is also a good idea.

"You don't want to be trying to get inside the house and be trapped out in the rain while you're trying to maneuver your way inside," said Acree.

"People think it's simple, but really there are so many aspects of the process of getting through a doorway; that's why they're so problematic. You've really got to look at it early and try to get it resolved for your own safety."

 

Find more Aging in Place stories online at heraldtribune.com/aging-in-place. If there are aspects of aging in place you would like us to explore, send ideas to mmoore@heraldtribune.com.