Want to be able to age at home? Then time is of the essence

As necessary as nursing and retirement homes are, I’ve never met anyone eager to leave their comfortable home to move into one as they grow older — we want to age at home. It’s natural to prefer your own place, but it’s also easy to miss the single most common and avoidable reason nursing or retirement home residency becomes necessary, even when it’s not wanted.


If you’re a senior or soon-to-be senior, you should know that today’s hardware, fixtures and technologies to age at home can greatly reduce the need for nursing home residency. There really is a lot of remarkable stuff out there. And depending on how far you want to take home enhancements to keep you at home, there’s a very good chance you can avoid the need for a nursing home altogether.


The reason many people cannot age at home is because they waited too long to make the necessary household upgrades. It’s never too early to start; but it’s often too late, in my experience. A true story tells a typical tale.

Hitting close to home

My in-laws moved out of their two-storey family home when they were in good health in their 70s. They relocated to a smaller place with a ground-floor layout in a seniors’ community where all yard work and snow removal was provided. This was their aging-in-place plan, but it did no good. In fact, they were probably worse off because they were now farther from family.

In the end, moving to their bungalow didn’t keep them in their own home any longer than they would have been able to stay in their two-storey home. Why? Because it takes time to renovate to accommodate the three main issues of aging: reduced strength, reduced mobility and reduced mental acuity. And time is something my in-laws did not give themselves.

age at home aging in place access ramp
This access ramp is one I designed for a client in the U.S. A ramp is one of the first things a homeowner should install to make their place more senior-friendly. Every ramp needs to be custom designed for the location. Illustration credit: Len Churchill

When I help homeowners make household upgrades to age well at home, there are three tiers to the transformation. Tier 1 is the easy stuff that yields a lot of quick gains, typically completed within 30 days or less. This would include grab rail installation, traction aides, fall alert systems, Wi-Fi cameras (so loved ones can keep an eye on things remotely) and an access ramp, among others.

Tier 2 includes room-by-room modifications designed to help when outside assistance is required for part of each day. These enhancements include things such as a barrier-free bathtub or shower, a raised toilet, lower-than-usual kitchen counters, and perhaps even a lift system.

Tier 3 is for people who want to have full-time, live-in help, and includes a second suite for a caregiver, enhanced vehicle loading and unloading, and an accessible outdoor leisure area.

age at home aging in place grab bar accessibility
Simple things like this grab rail can extend the time that seniors remain living in their own home. Photo credit: Canstock Photo

Weighing the costs

But doesn’t all this upgrading cost a bundle?

Sort of. The further you progress with the three tiers of enhancement, the more expensive things get. That said, “expensive” is a relative term here. Compared with nursing home fees, upgrades for enhanced senior living start looking more reasonable.

Things get even more interesting when you realize that the costs of home upgrades for enhanced senior living do not disappear entirely after they’re paid, as nursing home fees do. When you don’t need your senior-friendly home anymore, your family can sell it for a premium and recoup a good portion of the costs of enhancement.


There are lots of up-and-coming seniors who’d love to own a home that can see them through for the rest of their lives.

Nursing homes are necessary. I’m glad they exist. But if your dream is to stay in your home as long as possible, time is the single biggest thing to keep in mind. You can’t start too early, but you can certainly start too late.

An online course to help

The experience with my in-laws led me to create an online course I call Aging Well at Home. It covers essentials such as:

  • Key renovations and modifications that you or your contractor can do to make your place truly senior-friendly, such as wheelchair ramp construction and choosing a porch lift
  • Plans, designs, philosophy and recommended products
  • 20+ other specific home enhancements for senior living
  • And one-on-one help, including your questions answered by me

This video explains how and why helping seniors to age gracefully at home has become a growing specialty of mine:


If you’ve ever been worried about having to move out of your home due to advancing age and disability, this course can make a big difference in your life. It presents a clear path towards the sometimes-confusing world of renovations for senior living.


Most people wait too long to begin renovating so they can age at home. By the time the need is apparent, it’s too late to make these changes happen. Find out more about this course and how it can help you.

steve maxwell online course aging in place

Editor’s note: This column contains an affiliate link, meaning All Things Home earns a small commission if you click through and purchase the course. We feel it’s important to note that we have approved this affiliate link because we endorse the program independently of earning a commission.


About the Author

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell has been helping Canadians with home improvement, gardening and hands-on living since 1988. Visit for videos, stories and inspiration.



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