Grab bars aren’t just for hospitals and nursing homes anymore.
In fact, lots of products that we’ve traditionally considered “institutional” or necessary only for older folks are turning up in the homes of young families, single women and active Baby Boomers.
In response, product manufacturers are designing them in styles, finishes and colors that match the trendiest hardware, appliances and fixtures.
Grab bars are a great example. Once available only in shiny, sterile, stainless steel, you can find them now in brushed nickel, oil-rubbed bronze and nearly every color you could want, so they’ll match your bathroom tiles or towels.
Other products that can keep us comfortable at home as we age have gained such universal appeal that manufacturers don’t even market them specifically for older consumers.
Front-loading washing machines. Energy- and style-conscious homeowners have gravitated to front-loaders in such great numbers that the old top-loader is practically a relic. But like your dryer, a front-loader requires you to bend to load it. The answer to the pain that bending causes is an optional pedestal to elevate the washer and dryer set by 13 inches or so.
French-door refrigerators. You open your refrigerator far more often than your freezer, yet traditional models force you to bend to get to the bottom shelves and vegetable crispers. When you’re ready for a new one, choose a unit with a pull-out freezer drawer on the bottom and French doors on the top, with movable shelves inside, that let you see and reach everything without bending.
Spa-like showers. Adding an oversized rain head-style showerhead and a wall-mounted spray or two on the shower walls leaves you with a pleasant way to massage your sore body after a long day at work. While you’re renovating the shower, remove the step that leads into it, and add a bench that you can sit on while shaving your legs or soaking up the steam.
Stand-alone cooktops and wall-mounted ovens. Place the oven high enough to reach into without bending, and choose an induction cooktop that never gets hot, so you don’t have to worry that your grand children will burn themselves. As long as you’re replacing your stove, consider a model with knobs or touch controls on the front so you don’t have to reach over hot pots and pans to turn them off.
Anti-scald faucets. As we age or develop diseases like diabetes, our skin can become more sensitive to pain. Some new faucets come with built-in anti-scald valves, or you can buy a single valve for the water heater. The bonus: The devices also protect small children, who also burn more easily than adults.
Home automation. Like our seasonal residents who escape the Arizona summers by moving away when the mercury rises, anyone who travels or works long hours can appreciate a system that allows you to remotely check one place when you’re at the other. Home automation systems can tell you if you left the oven on, and they can even turn up the heat 30 minutes before you arrive home. You operate them via the Internet or phone.
Any of these home improvements will keep you more comfortable as you age. In the meantime, they’ll add convenience right now for you, your family and any older relatives who come to visit.