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Universal Design: Helping Older Adults Maintain Their Independence

Advancing age and conditions such as arthritis can make it hard to do certain things. Getting around, opening doors, and stepping into the tub may be more difficult. Most middle-aged or older adults want to keep living in their own homes as long as possible. Universal design features can help make that possible.

Universal design involves making a home safer and more practical to live in. This can benefit people of all ages and abilities. It can help older adults to live independently longer. For example, features in the house may be designed to decrease the need for bending, lifting, or reaching. These features blend in so they are attractive and useful.

Building or Remodeling Ideas

Some universal features require more effort than others. Examples are step-less entries and wider halls and doorways. They may only be possible when building a new home or remodeling an existing one. Other examples are:

Renovation Ideas

Are you planning to have repairs made to your home? If so, this is the best time to add universal features. Here are some ideas:

Little things count, too. Reorganize cupboards. Store frequently used items between waist and shoulder height..

Quick Fixes

Inexpensive and easy fixes can make a big difference too. Here are some minor things people can do to help stay independent:

There are also many other devices to help make life easier and safer.

Putting It All Together

Minor changes can have a major impact on quality of life. Assistive devices and home adjustments help people do more things for themselves.


Center for Assistive Technology—State University of New York at Buffalo

Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access—State University of New York at Buffalo


Canadian Healthcare Network

Health Canada


A guide to aging in place design. UDS Foundation website. Available at: Accessed October 8, 2021.

Falls in older adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed October 8, 2021.

Home modifications to promote independent living. American Association of Retired Persons website. Available at: Accessed October 8, 2021.

How universal design creates a seamless aging-in-place experience. Aging in Place website. Available at: Accessed October 8, 2021.

Universal design. PBS website. Available at: Accessed October 8, 2021.

Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board   Last Updated: 10/8/2021