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Aging in Place

house with landscaping in front

Older South Dakotans report that it is very important to stay in the home for as long as possible. Unfortunately, most housing in South Dakota is not designed to meet the changing needs of a lifetime. Most homes are missing one or more of the basic accessibility (lever-style door handles and faucets; extra-wide hallways and doors; accessible electrical controls; no-step entry; and single-level living option). Even when these features are present, it does not mean that a home is aging-in-place ready. For example, feature of the laundry room or kitchen may make it difficult to preform critical routine tasks. 

Universal design (UD) emerged in the 1980s as an approach to design that aims to create products and environments to be used by people of all ages, sizes, and abilities, with minimal need for specialized disability-specific features (e.g., lower counter type height). UD may seem like a rather daunting and expensive approach, but in fact, increasing implementation in new housing will likely reduce the need for costly structural renovations. 

Given the condition of the current stock of homes, it is critical for adults who plan to remain in the home to complete home modifications necessary for aging in place. Perhaps the most critical feature to consider is having the option for single level living on the entry level. This means that there is a bedroom or a room that could be used for sleeping and an accessible bathroom on same floor that is used to entry and exit them home. A home can still be multi-story so long as the option for single level living is available. Please note that the vast majority of homes have at least one step up to enter the building. Therefore, a ramp will likely be needed eventually to ensure the entry level can be accessed by someone using a wheelchair. 

Other considerations for aging in place:

  • Transportation: how will you reach desired destinations when you are no longer able to drive? Are services like Lyft or Uber available in your community? Is there a public bus or transportation service? Are friends or loved ones able to help get you two and from errands?
  • Services: what options are available for home (meal preparation, laundry, etc.) and health (medication management, wound care, etc.) care in the home? Is an adult child or other family member able to help? How much do your preferred services cost? How will you pay for those services?
  • Social activities: what activities are most important to you (e.g., church)?  How will you continue to engage in those activities? Are your preferred activities in close proximity to your home?

Tips to get started on making your home aging-in-place ready:

  1. Assess your current home to identify features that may make it more difficult to remain in the home if you or a loved one develop an activity limiting disability (e.g., laundry room in the basement). You may want to consult a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. 
  2. Make a list of the most important features you would like included in your forever home. Prioritize items from most to least important.
  3. Identify local building laws that you must adhere to as you develop your renovation plan. If you are planning to renovate the entire home, you may want to enlist the help of a designer and a project manager. 
  4. Secure permits and financing for the project.
  5. Closely monitor the project as it progresses to ensure the specifications you requested are implemented, particularly those needed to make your home aging-in-place ready. .


All Aging in Place Content

Architect leaping in front of a home.

Voices for Home Modification of the Dakotas

The Voices for Home Modification coalition seeks to increase knowledge about the role home design plays in quality of life for people with mobility limitations. Learn more about their mission and how you can get involved today!

Accessible bathroom with a step-in shower and low-clearance sink.

Home Modification Planning Guide

The home modification planning guide is a tool for anyone who plans to age in place. The guide is designed to help you think about how you might actually use the home after developing disabilities.

Kitchen and living area of a modern, adaptable home. Ample space throughout for wheelchair access to essential features.

Adaptable Home Overview

The Adaptable Home Series is a tool to help consumers who are looking to find a home that can be modified to meet the needs of people with disabilities and older adults without the need for costly structural renovations.

Wooden house with stacks of coins in the background.

How to Find and Pay for Home Modifications

This resource was developed to help you understand how to pay for home modifications in North Dakota and South Dakota, as well as describe some of the challenges you may encounter as you search for businesses or organizations to renovate your home for you.

Older adult man getting assistance from a young, female caregiver.

Older Adults

SDSU Extension provides education and resources for older adults and their families.

Man in a wheelchair cooking in an accessible kitchen with a woman.

Testimonials for Home Modification

The Voices for Home Modification of the Dakota project team invited various people in North Dakota and South Dakota to share their testimonials about mobility limitations and housing.

Accessible home exterior with zero-entry doorway.

New Me, New Home.

After a series of life-changing strokes, Julie List made the bold decision to move into an accessible home. Learn how her journey transformed her into a voice for accessible home design.

Emergency medical technician walking near an emergency room entrance.

Emergency Medical Service Providers for Home Modification

Emergency medical service providers work in the home each day to help individuals with medical emergencies and falls. Learn the crucial role that accessible home design can play in making their work more efficient.

Exterior of an accessible home.

Caregivers for Home Modification

Home modification can improve the quality of life of for caregivers by making it easier to help with everyday tasks. Learn three unique caregiver stories about the challenges faced while caring for loved ones at home.

Rusty shed in a farmyard.

Home Is Where the Heart and History Are

When challenged with a degenerative nerve disorder, Gina and her husband worked with local contractors to modify their rural home to meet her accessibility needs. Learn how the project helped keep her in her family home for years to come.