According to an AARP survey, 89% of Americans prefer to “age in place”, staying in their own homes for as long as possible. Unfortunately, not many of us live in a home that was actually designed for senior living, and there are common trouble spots in almost every home that jeopardize the safety of people with decreased eyesight, limited mobility and other issues that come with advancing age. Preparing now not only keeps you and your loved ones safe, but it can greatly increase your chances of aging in place for a prolonged period of time.
- FLOORS AND FURNITURE – The leading cause of disability in older people, falls can be prevented with some simple measures. First, remove all throw rugs and secure loose electrical cords so they are not in walkways. Create clear pathways by moving furniture and other items out of the way. A waxed or highly polished floor can be particularly hazardous and should be replaced or covered with a non-skid surface. Ensure that all your furniture is firm and safe. A chair that has a broken leg is dangerous and should be repaired or replaced as soon as possible. Beds that have an elevated platform are also not advisable for seniors because the beds are increasingly harder to climb into and present another fall hazard.
- BATHROOMS – As people age, they sometimes stop bathing and showering as often as they once did. There can be many reasons for this, but one of the main causes is the worry about getting in and out of the tub. For those with limited agility, climbing roughly 18 inches to get into the bath presents a significant challenge and can lead to dangerous falls. About 250,000 Americans aged 60 years and older slip and fall in bathtub accidents each year, according to the National Council on Aging. What’s more, these falls are the single biggest cause of broken hips. And the odds are, if you fall once getting in and out of the tub, you’ll fall again within 6 months. Installing handrails and bathmats help. A roll-in tub is an affordable option for converting a tub to a shower. Designed to help you maintain your independence and bathe with dignity, a tub conversion means that you only need to step over 2-3 inches, rather than 18. Also, curbless showers for wheelchair access are an option.
- STAIRS – If the only way into your house or to your bedroom is by using stairs, you are greatly decreasing your odds of being able to remain independently in your own home. That’s because just one fall, or even certain illnesses, can affect your ability to negotiate stairs. Adding an entry way ramp and/or a chair lift ensures that stairs will not be an issue as you age. Also, all stairs (even ones with just 2 or 3 steps) should be equipped with a handrail and should be checked for stability.
- LIGHTING – Cataracts, diabetes and other conditions diminish eyesight to the point where even well-lit rooms can seem dim. Combat it through improved lighting in hallways and other frequently used areas within and outside of the house. Cleaning the overhead light fixtures, replacing defective bulbs and installing additional lighting can go a long way toward creating a more secure home. Another great option is to install an occupancy sensor light switch that automatically turns on the light anytime it senses a movement, such as the opening of a kitchen door.
- PASSAGEWAYS – If you ever need a wheelchair to get around, even if it is just temporarily, you’ll quickly realize how narrow your doorways and hallways can be. Consider rooms that have tight turns off of the hallway and have narrower doors, such as the bathroom. How easy would it be to negotiate that turn and squeeze through the doorway in a wheelchair? Widening doorways, replacing hinges with “swing-clear” versions, and removing door thresholds make it easier for independent wheelchair access.
- KITCHENS – Rearrange your kitchen so that your most frequently used Items such as utensils and cooking supplies are within easy reach. Many falls happen when seniors are attempting to reach something high. If you must get something from a shelf, use a sturdy step stool with firm footing. Make sure appliance cords are placed out of the way, and replace damaged and frayed cords. To avoid the risk of fires, keep towels or dish cloths off the stove, and make sure you have a workable fire extinguisher nearby that you know how to use.
Your home is where you are most comfortable. So, it’s no wonder that more and more people are looking at ways to ensure their homes will continue to accommodate them in their golden years. By removing the most hazardous and obvious deterrents to being able to age in place, you can go a long way toward maintaining your independence and comfort for years to come.