By Patrick Langston

We plan our finances, our vacations, even our grocery shopping.

So, why aren’t we doing the same when it comes to growing older in our own homes?

A recent Ipsos poll for HomeEquity Bank found that 93 per cent of seniors believe it’s important to stay in their own homes throughout their retirement, a practice known as aging in place.

Yet the decision to retool a home for aging in place is usually “reactionary,” says Sean MacGinnis, who is president of BuildAble, a company specializing in renovations for those with mobility challenges that often accompany aging.

“Something happens: They fall in their home and have an injury or they’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness that’s caused them to lose mobility.”

Ian Crawford agrees. He’s a certified aging-in-place specialist and marketing manager for Ottawa-based HealthCraft and Invisia, which manufacture home safety aids including the Invisia line of sleek, stylish bathroom grab bars and shower seats.

“People are aware they need to do something but don’t want to because it’s a matter of pride — ‘I don’t need that.’”

Unfortunately, pride goeth before a fall. And falls are common among seniors. In fact, 30 per cent of Canadian seniors fall each year, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. That’s almost two million people who could wind up with a serious injury or worse. Aging-in-place renovations could prevent many of those mishaps, and not just for seniors: Anyone can slip in a bathtub or take a tumble down poorly lit stairs.

But renovations for aging in place aren’t just about safety. They also make living at home more comfortable and, in some cases, are the difference between staying at home and having to move to a retirement residence.

Whether it’s a simple installation of non-slip tiles or a major home makeover to accommodate one-storey living, the time to do those renovations is before the need arises.

For one thing, proactive renovations for aging in place are more likely to be well-thought-out than rushed ones.

They can also be integrated into larger projects — say, bathroom and kitchen updates — and the cost spread out over a number of years.

For instance, if you’re thinking of renovating your kitchen because it’s showing its age, MacGinnis suggests asking for full-extension drawers with easy access to what’s inside. He also says to consider cabinets with pull-down racked shelves, some of which can be motorized. Other possibilities include counters with room underneath for a wheelchair user.

When it’s time to re-do the bathroom, a low or no-threshold shower is de rigueur for greying homeowners wanting to avoid the risk of tripping. A barrier-free shower like this also means a wheelchair user can roll inside and then transfer to a shower seat for a long, relaxing dousing. What’s more, this kind of spa-like shower looks luxurious and is appreciated no matter what your age (hence the term “universal design”).

A note of caution on bathrooms: Crawford says grab bars are not usually a DIY project because they may need special installation to ensure they are properly secured.

Outside your home, if you’re planning a landscaping project, MacGinnis suggests ditching the steps to your front door and going with a gently inclined path that’s accessible to anyone. “They can look gorgeous done in interlock and with gardens along the way,” he says.

Just be judicious when planning to age in place, cautions Scott Puddicombe of Puddicombe Access Solutions. As an accessibility expert, he specializes in the design and specification of residential modifications for clients with mobility and other challenges.

He says a growing need combined with a lack of clarity on design standards for aging in place means “you see (renovators) who say, ‘I can do that,’ but they’ve only built a couple of ramps and widened a doorway.”

That’s complicated by clients who, confronted by aging in place for the first time, don’t know what questions to ask.

Having someone like Puddicombe assess your needs, create a full design and monitor the project is one solution to those problems (his fees run from one to 10 per cent of the total reno budget).

Bottom line on aging in place: It’s a great way to retain our independence, stay connected with our communities, and continue enjoying the homes we love. But preparing for it ahead of time is clearly the way to go.\

Here are some helpful resources for aging in place.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation: Low- and no-cost home modifications to increase accessibility for seniors and people with a disability —

March of Dimes: Assistive devices, home modification and other services. Services may be income-dependent —

Province of Ontario: Programs, including tax credits, grants and forgivable loans, to renovate homes for aging in place; also property tax relief for low-income seniors —

Federal government: Checklist for aging in place by the Forum of Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors —