Mike Hirrlinger, CSHP, is division manager of the Senior Living Division at CENTURY 21 Mike Bowman Inc. He answered questions from our readers about finding a home for a parent.

Q: I am helping my older parents buy a home. What kind of home features should I look for that will enable them to live comfortably as they age and their needs change?

A: That’s a good question for anyone who is buying a home for their parents or just helping them look. It’s important for seniors to look ahead and make a plan for aging in place–growing old in their own home. Many houses don’t have the right usability features for safely aging in place.

Universal design is a philosophy that a home should be usable for inhabitants of all ages and abilities. Look for these useful features, or consider installing them:

No-step entry. A single-floor layout, with no entry stairs, is best. Also make sure the thresholds are flush with the floor, for getting around in a wheelchair.

Wide doorways and hallways. Doorways should be 32 to 36 inches wide to let wheelchairs pass through; hallways should be 36 to 42 inches wide. If your loved one is bed-bound, you might need access for a hospital bed, not to mention emergency services responding to a medical event with a gurney.

Nonslip surfaces in bathtubs and showers. These help everyone stay on their feet–not just people who are frail.

Ample lighting. This includes outdoor walkways as well as indoors.

Elevated electric sockets. These are more accessible to people in wheelchairs, as well as those who have difficulty bending down.

Grab bars: Found in the bathroom for toileting and bathing, or anywhere a person might need to steady themselves.

Temperature-activated flow reducer: A big name for a small device that turns off the water if it gets too hot, to prevent burns.

Shower seats: Sitting down in the shower can be safer for those who are not able to stand for long periods of time, and can prevent falls.

Lever handles: These make it easier to grip and turn doorknobs or faucet handles.

Rocker light switches: Like lever handles, these are easier to manage.

Q: What kind of neighborhood is better for an older person–a quiet suburb or an urban environment with good transportation options? What else should we look for in a neighborhood?

A: Location is a key component of any aging-in-place plan. The question of an urban versus a suburban or small-town location depends on the individual and the locale. A community’s features and resources can have a large impact on a person’s quality of life. In addition, as a person ages, their need for outside assistance increases.

You should be attuned to the availability of:

    • Transportation options such as ride-shares, buses, trains, or other mass transit

    • Services such as home maintenance, grocery delivery, shopping, or anything else that might help you maintain your quality of life if mobility is limited

    • Medical facilities or in-home medical care companies, including doctors, hospitals, outpatient or emergency care

    • Assisted-living options, for a later stage

    • Proximity to friends or family

    • Libraries, schools, and other community organizations that offer opportunities to learn and grow as an individual

    • Faith-based institutions, for religious people

    • Social clubs, centers, or other organizations

Q: Should my parents and I be on the title of the home, or just them, or just me? How about the loan?

A: It is not necessary for you to be on the title of your parents’ home or on their loan, but it is imperative that you have all the necessary legal documents in place before you need them. This will save you time, money, and a lot of headaches.

Q: What is the biggest mistake older people (or their loved ones) tend to make (or try to make, before you stop them!) in shopping for a home?

A: Not having a plan!

If a senior doesn’t have an aging-in-place plan that covers their preferences, then decisions about their lifestyle and care will eventually be left up to someone else.

    • Have an open, honest discussion with your loved ones before any decisions are made.

    • Know your medical needs and what options meet them.

    • Understand your living options.

    • Look for a place to live that meets your needs, including your personal preferences.

    • Assess your legal situation and make necessary preparations, including naming an executor for your estate.

    • Maintain an open conversation about the issues with your loved ones.

Change can be overwhelming. Always take concerns seriously, and take the time to discuss them with loved ones. Talk about things you enjoy, what is challenging, and anything that may be bothering you.

This story is part of a content partnership with CENTURY 21(r) Real Estate.