Older people have the highest rate of homeownership in the country — about 80 percent, according to a 2016 report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. The great majority live in single-family homes, most of them poorly suited for the disabilities common in later life.
The center has looked at three of the most important accessibility features that allow people to move safely around their living spaces: entrances without steps, single-floor living, and wide hallways and doorways that can accommodate wheelchairs.
“Less than 4 percent of the U.S. housing stock has all three of those,” said Jennifer Molinsky, a senior research associate at the center.
Add two more important elements for aging in place — doors with lever handles, and light switches and electrical outlets that can be reached from a wheelchair — and the proportion drops to 1 percent.
You’ll often hear older people vow that they won’t leave their homes except “feet first.” Without modifications, however, the design of most older Americans’ homes could eventually thwart their owners’ desire to stay in them.
Solving that problem, individually or collectively, means confronting certain obstacles.