My parents lived together their whole lives, first in their suburban home, later in an apartment and even later in an independent-living apartment in a senior community. But last year, my dad, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, had to be placed in memory care, and my octogenarian mom had to live by herself for the first time in her life.

She is not alone in facing a change in living situation in her older years. For the millions of older adults in the United States (predicted to grow from around 58 million to around 88 million by 2050), life transitions such as experiencing widowhood, having a partner with dementia or downsizing after decades in the same home can be a huge challenge. One way to ease the adjustment is to ensure that any new home is comfortable, safe and adaptable to physical limitations.

Psychologist Nancy Schlossberg, author of “Too Young to be Old,” says older people need to realize that it will take time to adjust to their new lives, and they should allow space to grieve what they have left behind. “You are not living the life you lived and are going to have to make major adjustments,” she says. “So you need to focus on: What are your resources and support for dealing with this change?” Some get help from friends and family, senior centers or government agencies.

One organization that can help older people who are moving is the National Association of Specialty & Senior Move Managers (NASMM). “The goal is to re-create the comfort of the old space in the new space,” says Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of NASMM. People from the organization will sweep the new house or apartment for safety; measure the space, including doorways in case a wheelchair is needed; and ensure there is storage for health and medical supplies.

Buysse cautions that people should not expect to bring all their old stuff along. “They should forget about their massive armoires and work with the capacity for storage in the new place,” she says.

“When I design a space, I like to follow the L.O.V.E. method, which stands for light, optimize, visual, ease,” says senior living designer Lisa Cini, author of “Boom: The Baby Boomers’ Guide to Preserving Your Freedom and Thriving as You Age in Place,” who also runs Best Living Tech, a website that offers quality-of-life products for older people.


Here is her advice for setting up a safe living situation in a new space.

Doors and floors

Switch out round doorknobs (they are difficult to grip if you have arthritis) for handles with levers, and opt for sliding and pocket doors rather than barn or swinging doors, which consume space.

Place rugs with nonskid mats on polished floor surfaces, and invest in anti-slip tiles for bathrooms and kitchens. If you install new carpet, it should be flat and dense, not fluffy, which can lead to tripping.


As we age, less light reaches our retinas, so we need more light in our surroundings to avoid falls and other accidents. Ideally, lighting in closets, hallways and under the bed should be motion sensor activated.

To make stairs more visible, use a different paint color on the top and bottom steps, and make sure there is a handrail and motion-sensor lighting.


Install handrails or grab bars by the toilet and by shower controls to help with stability. Cini also recommends bidet toilets with night-lights because they save on toilet paper, aren’t abrasive on the skin and do a better job cleaning, especially considering many older people suffer from arthritis or shoulder injuries that make reaching around difficult.


Paint the wall behind the toilet an accent color, such as green in a semi-gloss, to separate it from everything else.

To avoid feeling a chill when you exit the shower (we lose body fat with age, Cini says), install a heat lamp, heated floor or exhaust fan with a heater. The shower should include a seat so you can sit if your blood pressure drops. Avoid showers with steps (no matter how small), include a hand sprayer to control the water and make sure there is enough light.

If you choose a tub, select one that you can get into easily with a side-panel door. Have a plumber put in an anti-scald device.

Living room

Look into adjustable chairs. If you have an electric recliner, make sure there is a battery backup in case the power goes out.

As we age, we have a tendency to bruise more easily. Avoid tight layouts, as well as glass tables because it’s harder to see the edges and pointy corners (also called hip gougers). Cini suggests covering corners with clear silicone rubber.

Optimize your space with coffee tables that have built-in TV trays and chargers. Get an extension cord with a surge protector, and use double-stick tape to attach it to the side of an end table so you don’t have to bend down to plug items in.



Get rid of heavy cast-iron skillets and invest in lighter pots and pans, as well as plates with divided sections for food. Avoid the need to bend down by placing the microwave oven at eye level.

Add under-cabinet lighting with outlets built in to reduce countertop clutter. Some upper cabinets can have adjustable shelves or mechanisms that lower them.

As a safety precaution, install an automatic shut-off for the stove to prevent a fire.


The days of climbing onto high beds are over. The proper height, Cini says, is 21 inches, the same as a standard seat height. Some beds have drawers underneath for storage. Get rid of footboards or anything that sticks up that you can bump into. If you have a bench at the end of the bed, make sure it has side arms so it’s easier to get up from.

The nightstand should be large enough to hold glasses, medications and a drink. There should also be a reading lamp or sconce, as well as an easily accessible charging station.

Curtains or shades should be room-darkening, and it’s a bonus if you can lift and lower them via remote control.


Avoid clutter on the floor that you can slip on, especially if you get up in the middle of the night and your blood pressure drops, a key cause of falls.

High-tech and personal connections

Make sure all the technology in the home is up to date: high-speed internet service, working smartphones or tablets, and access to social media or messaging services. A Fitbit or a voice assistant that uses a smart speaker, such as Amazon’s Alexa, can help with medication reminders, grocery lists and tracking the weather. And, for added security, a video doorbell system allows you to monitor who is at your door.

“Studies show that older adults reporting social isolation or loneliness show poorer cognitive function over time and depression,” says counseling psychologist Jameca Woody Cooper.

Cini suggests using tablets to send and receive photos and videos, and to have live chats. “We have more technology in our cars than we do in our homes,” she says. “But it’s important to think about how you will connect with friends and family in the future.”