Outfitting your home with aging-in-place features can help you prevent accidents and make your home suitable for years to come
By Gina Roberts-Grey
About one in six Americans 65 and older will suffer a fall in the next three months, with about a third of those people sustaining injuries such as a broken hip, according to a new report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control,
“Slips and falls are usually completely avoidable,” says Ruth E. Thaler-Carter co-author of “The Who, What and Where of Elder Care: A handy, step-by-step guide to help navigate the maze of caregiving” published by LifeBridge Health.
To prevent you or a loved one from taking a tumble or having an accident, Thaler-Carter suggests increasing the wattage of light bulbs around your home. “As we age, we need more light to see clearly in hallways, stairways, basements and garages,” says Thaler-Carter, who lives in Rochester.
Increase the wattage of light bulbs throughout your house for better visibility. To reduce the chance you’ll trip or fall on your way to the bathroom, install nightlights to illuminate the route you travel.
Once your way is well-lit, turn your attention to your feet. Or more specifically, what might trip up your feet. Make sure your walkways and stairs are clear of debris and all paths in between furniture are wide enough to fit a walker, in case it’s ever necessary. Thaler-Carter says, “Ideally, you should remove all throw rugs, but if you’re attached to them, secure them to the floor with double faced tape.”
Stay off step ladders, another cause of falls, by arranging closets and cabinets putting items most frequently used within reach. “Ridding your home of many potential dangers can usually be done in a weekend,” says Thaler-Carter, “time well spent considering it can save you months of recovering from a nasty fall.”
Getting your “place” ready—Preventing a slip or fall isn’t the only way to get your home ready for the coming years. Aging-in-place remodeling projects preserve independence, increase accessibility and convenience.
Many modifications are minor and include things like placing a bench or chair near all entrances to set down purchases or slip your shoes on and off, or using phones with buttons — like the Ameriphone P300 Picture Phone, which uses photos to represent speed dial numbers of family, doctors, etc, and make it easier to call loved ones or for help The phone is available though www.amazon.com from about $30.
Some of the easiest and most affordable aging-in-place projects, says Andrew J. Borislow, independent living strategist, and certified aging-in-place specialist, are designed to help you keep your balance. “Non-slip strips on your tub or shower floor, non-skid mats on the bathroom floor and ADA approved (www.adaappliances.com) grab bars inside and right outside the tub or shower and by the toilet add steadying support in slippery situations.”
Another element to aging-in-place designs alleviates pain and discomfort in your home. Swap round, interior doorknobs with lever style ones and add easy-to-grasp handles and pulls to all cabinet doors and drawers to make it easier for arthritic hands to maneuver. “Adding sliding shelves and lazy susans in your cabinets make tracking down pot lids and cooking easier,” says Borislow.
Borislow says in addition to minor changes, many boomers are opting to outfit their homes with amenities usually found in extended care facilities to remain in their home no matter what health issues may arise.
“Seniors are making over their kitchens, building countertops that are wheelchair accessible, lowering stair riser heights and making stair treads wider to fit walkers and canes,” he says.
One essential aspect of an aging-in-place kitchen design is raising the dishwasher approximately 10 inches higher than it traditionally sits. “It’s tough to reach down and to the back of a dishwasher, especially for people in a wheelchair or walker,” says Borislow.
Some other elements to consider when outfitting your house with aging-in-place features are installing hand railings on both sides of the stairs to ensure safe travel in either direction, non slip tile flooring made with a slight grit texture in the bathroom for preventing falls due to wet feet and raising electrical outlets so you won’t need to bend over to plug or unplug things.
Borislow says one new aging-in-place device gaining popularity with boomers is a barrier free shower that doesn’t require stepping up into a shower. “It enables wheelchair or walker use, and when paired with a handheld showerhead it accommodates just about any bathing need.”
Despite home safety and aging-in-place modifications, it may be time to consider hiring an aide when everyday activities like bathing or showering, dressing, getting in or out of bed or a chair, using the toilet, and eating get difficult. “Many are reluctant to discuss these issues, but find once they do, they’re grateful for the assistance an aide provides,” says Gail Gazelle, a medical doctor and clinical professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Aides help with hygiene tasks like bathing or shaving, light or heavy housekeeping and meal preparation.
Home care aides also provide care for your pet. With locations from coast to coast, FETCH! Pet Care (www.fetchpetcare.com) offers a full range of services that meet every need and budget, including boarding and daycare in the sitter’s home, overnight sitting or daily visits in your home, private and group dog walks, pet taxiing, yard pet waste removal and miscellaneous home care.
Regardless of what you do to get your home ready for your golden years, experts agree it’s best to start early. “It’s easier to make changes at your leisure, than when you’re rushed to do so because of an immediate need,” says Borislow.