How To Be Safe at Home in Your Later Years
It’s a fact that people aged 80 and older are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. Today, more and more seniors are opting to stay in their homes in their later years. To do so, some adjustments in a home’s layout and décor may be required to accommodate the special needs of an older person. To continue to use your home as your base regardless of lifestyle, consider this analysis of some of the biggest trouble spots.
Some simple adaptations and/or additions, as well as some surprisingly low-cost renovations, can make your home a comfortable, convenient and safe place to live all through your lifetime. Many states and localities provide special grants and loans for their residents for home remodeling, so check around for availability of such programs in your area.
Starting at the Beginning: the Entryway
A full-length sidelight panel beside the front door can provide security for the hard-of-hearing or visually-impaired by identifying visitors before opening the door. Lever handles make opening all doors easier for those with limited grip strength and movement. Wheelchair users can more easily reach light switches located at lower levels; so-called “rocker” or “touch” switches can make it easier to operate lighting. Easy-care, non-slip floor surfaces such as low-pile carpeting and vinyl flooring are safer for people using a cane or walker for assistance. Improve lighting where needed. Have night lights in the bedroom, halls and bathrooms.
Independence in the Kitchen
Variable counter heights ranging from 30 to 36 inches make it possible to prepare food while seated for those who tire easily. Adjustable height chairs can be useful too, and can be mounted with casters for easier movement.
If you are in the market for a new refrigerator, self-defrosting side-by-side models with ice cube makers and cold water spigots are especially helpful to people with limited strength and dexterity.
Ranges with staggered burners allow people in wheelchairs to reach back burners without burning themselves; and a mirror above the stove provides a better view. Range controls should be located at the front or side of the cooktop. Wall-mounted ovens with side opening doors are ideal for those with limited mobility. Control markings designating temperatures and settings should contrast vividly with their backgrounds, to make visibility clearer.
Ample and easily accessible storage areas can be arranged in base cabinets; a storage wall that can accommodate pullout racks and rolling storage carts can be used. Trash compactors can limit the number of trips to the garbage can, while garbage disposals eliminate smelly trash. Plus, there are a host of innovative ideas to maximize space including door racks for brooms, hooks for pots and pans, and hangers for glassware and cups.
Critical Factors in the Bathroom
Grab bars can be added easily and inexpensively to surround a toilet, bathtub and shower. These are important because one is more likely to fall in the bathroom than in any other room in the home.
Non-skid adhesive strips, flowers or dots are a low-cost solution to the problem of slipping both inside and outside of the bathing unit. To avoid the possibility of electrical shock from appliances, a professional electrician should ground circuits.
A variety of inexpensive special bathing options are available for the elderly and disabled: a hand held shower head, a standard tub with fold-up seat, a tub with a transfer surface from wheelchair to bath bench, or a whirlpool for people with poor circulation in their extremities. Use raised toilet seats or commode over toilet to increase safety.
Stairs and Ramps
Stairways are second only to bathrooms as places where accidents occur. Handrails are an important safety factor, and should be installed on both sides of the stairway for support going up or coming down.
Risers in a stairway should not be in excess of seven inches. Outside risers should have a maximum height of four inches. The tread should be wide enough to allow one’s foot to rest completely without extending over the edge of the step. Keep all steps clutter free.
Some Other Considerations
Open floor plans afford easy maneuvering space for people who use wheelchairs. Make the environment safe by removing scatter rugs, furniture with sharp corners, sharp objects and clutter. For people of limited mobility who need to conserve their energy, relocate bedroom and living spaces onto the same level and establish convenient storage areas. If narrow doorways are a problem, short of replacing the entire door and frame, consider “swing-clear hinges.”
Home Safe Home
Once you have made these changes in your home, you’ll be able to enjoy your golden years in greater comfort, convenience and safety. As more and more people continue to stay at home and live independent lifestyles, tailoring the home environment to fit the changing needs of an aging population will become increasingly important. “Home Sweet Home” will continue to be just that— but it will also be a much safer place to live.
We’re Here to Help