Golden door handle and keyhole on the brown wooden door.

Some improvements are certainly more sophisticated, but installing lever-style door knobs can add much-needed simplicity for seniors. (iStockPhoto)

If your parents are getting up there in years, you may have had the discussion about whether it's better for them to stay put or go to an assisted living facility. It's a pretty safe bet that your parents prefer to stay in their home: According to a 2011 AARP research report, almost 90 percent of people over age 65 would rather remain at home as long as they're able, and 80 percent of older Americans have firm plans to stay put.

Fortunately, there's no shortage of home renovation projects that can help your mother or father stay at home. Here's a look at some of them, starting with the more pie-in-the-sky improvements and moving down the list in cost.

Elevator. Installing an elevator will be a challenge and costly. "Elevators are highly regulated. The structural work required to create a proper, isolated channel can run up a hefty carpentry bill alone," says Sabine Schoenberg, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based home improvement blogger at SabinesHome.com.

The cost, Schoenberg says, depends on the length of the elevator and how many floors it goes to – just the second floor, or the attic and basement as well? As a general rule, she says, expect to pay $30,000 and possibly quite a bit more.

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Stair lift. These are also expensive. "They often require a custom fitting to the staircase. The track is the most costly element of stair lift systems," Schoenberg says.

Still, as prices go, it's no elevator. You can find quite a few stair lifts online for less than $3,000, but they also run $10,000 and up. And don't forget installation, since this is a project you probably don't want to do yourself. According to Mr. Handyman, the national handyman service, the estimated labor to install a stair lift using its franchise averages between $400 and $500.

In-home monitoring service. It may not help your parents move around easier, but these services allow everyone to worry less about an elderly person at home alone.

Many “smart” homes with burglar alarms, fire alarms and carbon monoxide detection systems are also starting to offer in-home monitoring services for seniors. For example, AT&T will launch Digital Life Care next year, and BeClose.com will place sensors throughout a home so families can monitor a loved one's movements.

These systems generally involve a monthly fee and sometimes require the purchase of equipment. For BeClose.com, users must purchase sensors (three sensors cost $399), and monthly pricing starts at $69 a month.

Walk-in bathtub. These can be helpful for seniors who have trouble climbing in and out of the bathtub. But think it through before you rush out and buy one. Since you have to get in the tub and shut the door and then turn on the water, your parent may not enjoy sitting or standing in the buff, waiting for the water to fill the bathtub. According to the home improvement and contractor review site Angie's List, these tubs run $2,500 to $10,000.

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Widen doors. This may be necessary if your parent is traveling throughout the house in a wheelchair. Cost depends on too many factors to throw out a number with much confidence. But expect to pay at least a couple hundred per doorway – and possibly quite a bit more.

Why so much? It depends on the door. "It requires reframing and sometimes moving electrical switches, re-insulating, sheet rocking and painting finishes," Schoenberg says.

Remote-controlled blinds. A bad set of blinds can be problematic for some seniors, especially if they aren't very mobile to begin with.

That's why Kim Rush, a design expert at Decorview.com, a custom window treatment website, suggests buying motorized or automated window treatments. "Using a remote control or mobile device, you're able to set your window coverings without having to stand up and reach across furniture," she says.

Remote-controlled blinds aren't cheap. According to CostOwl.com, an average 36-inch by 48-inch motorized window shade or blind costs between $300 and $600. And on average, you can expect to pay 10 percent more per foot you add or subtract to the width and height. Installation costs tend to be $20 to $50 per blind.

Disability ramp. If either of your parents is wheelchair-bound, or you think that day is coming, this is a must. According to HomeAdvisor.com, which provides information about licensed home contractors, the national average price for a disability ramp ranges from $1,408 to $2,012.

Grab bars for the bathroom. These are bars located in the bathtub and next to the toilet, which may make someone unsteady feel more confident, says Ashita Patel, outreach coordinator for Modernize.com, which covers home improvements.

[Read: Which Home Remodeling Projects Are Worth Your Money?]

"These can be purchased for as little as $20, or a simpler solution is a special commode unit with handles that fits right over your existing toilet. The cost is around $40," she says.

Lever-style doorknobs. Patel says one of the easiest and cheapest retrofits is to switch traditional round doorknobs with lever-style doorknob handles.

"That can simplify a senior's life considerably," she says, adding that you can expect to pay $10 to $20 per handle.

Of course, if you have a lot of doors, even those minor costs can add up – especially if you're making a host of other improvements. Still, according to Genworth Financial's 2014 Cost of Care Survey, which was released in April, the national median monthly rate for a one-bedroom unit in an assisted living facility is $3,500. That's $42,000 a year. When you consider that cost, the idea of buying a walk-in tub and a few new doorknobs may start to look pretty good.

Tags: personal finance, senior citizens, senior health, aging, retirement, home improvements


Geoff Williams has been a contributor to U.S. News and World Report since 2013, writing about a variety of personal finance topics, from insurance and spending strategies to small business and tax-filing tips.

Williams got his start working in entertainment reporting in 1993, as an associate editor at "BOP," a teen entertainment magazine, and freelancing for publications, including Entertainment Weekly. He later moved to Ohio and worked for several years as a part-time features reporter at The Cincinnati Post and continued freelancing. His articles have been featured in outlets such as Life magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Cincinnati Magazine and Ohio Magazine.

For the past 15 years, Williams has specialized in personal finance and small business issues. His articles on personal finance and business have appeared in CNNMoney.com, The Washington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes.com and American Express OPEN Forum. Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America"

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Williams lives in Loveland, Ohio, with his two teenage daughters and is a graduate of Indiana University. To learn more about Geoff Williams, you can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow his Twitter page.

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