While most people say they want to live in their homes as long as possible, most homes are not designed to allow them to age successfully there.
Practical Makes Perfect When Modified
Aging affects vision, mobility, dexterity and endurance. Arthritis or other degenerative diseases may make it difficult to do the things one used to do. This usually translates into some practical problems at home. The three most common problems are: getting in and out of the house, using the bathroom, and going up and down the stairs. Because most people are unaware that simple home modifications can alleviate these problems, many develop coping strategies to stay in their homes, but put themselves at risk for accidents or injury.
Here are some simple steps to use to alleviate problems:
1. Investigate and Raise Awareness
2. Assess – Observe and look out for any changes in the home and with the person. Is it clean? Is anything broken? Is there food in the kitchen? Has the laundry been done? Is the person forgetting things? Are medications being taken? Are bills being paid?
3. Consider Asking These Questions
- What kinds of things are you having difficulty doing at home?
- What are you not doing now that you used to do or that you still want to do?
- Why can’t you do those things?
- Which feel unsafe and which are you unable to do?
4. Consult a Professional
HOME MODIFICATION CHECKLIST
- Install grab bars or safety rails for support when getting in/out of tub/shower – never use towel racks or shower curtain rods instead of grab bars
- Apply non-slip strips on bathtub and shower floors
- Use bathmats and rugs with non-skid backings
- Use an adjustable-height shower seat rather than standing, if necessary
- Install an adjustable height or handheld showerhead
- Turn down the water temperature on the hot water heater to 120 degrees to prevent scalding
- Keep towels and toilet paper within easy reach
- Avoid locking the bathroom door when bathing to allow quicker access to you in case of a fall.
- Widen or clear pathways through the bedroom – arrange furniture to create open space
- Make sure all electrical cords have been cleared from paths
- Place smoke detectors outside of bedrooms on each level of the home
- Keep a phone with a cord within easy reach of the bed; cordless phones aren’t useable when the electricity goes out
- Post a list of emergency numbers near the phone; include current medications, dates prescribed and the pharmacy phone number
- Secure rug edges with double-sided tape or get rid of scatter rugs
- Make sure you can switch on a lamp before leaving bed to illuminate the path to the bathroom
- If you feel unstable at night or fear falling, carry a cordless phone with you as you move about
- If a low bed makes it difficult to get up, consider using risers to elevate the bed
Kitchen Clean Ups
- Don’t wear loose sleeves when cooking
- Use a timer when cooking or baking so you don’t forget that something is cooking
- Consider a long handled dustpan/broom combination to reduce bending
- If you use a rug on the floor in front of the sink, use a rubber-backed mat
- If you have difficulty reading stove and oven knobs, investigate large-sized controls through vision support organizations
- Install cupboard door handles that are easy to grasp, such as D-type handles
- Store frequently used items in easy-to-reach cabinets and or countertops
- Increase kitchen lighting over task areas such as countertops, stove and sink
- Have a seated workspace available
- Create a safe place to rest hot food immediately as you remove it from the microwave
Living Room Rights
- Increase lighting at entryways
- Leave lights on in rooms or hallways that you walk through after dark. (High efficiency bulbs and motion sensors at doorways are economical lighting solutions)
- Change to leaver-type door handles if knobs are difficult to grasp or manipulate
- Install no step, no trip thresholds at doorways
- Install peepholes or exterior doors that are the right height for the homeowner
- Install handles and locks on all windows that are easy to grip at the right height
- Make sure all railings are sturdy and that handrails are on both sides of all stairs
- Secure all rug edges with double-sided tape or consider getting rid of scatter rugs
- If vision problems are a concern, create visual contrast on stair risers with paint or tape
- Make sure homeowners can see and use climate controls (thermostats, air-conditioning units)
Safety First for Safe Stays
Through awareness, education, planning and action, you can help your loved ones fulfill their desire to remain in their homes for as long as possible.
Lois Young-Tulin, PhD, is an Assistant Geriatric Care Manager at Complete Care Strategies