Older Americans maintain expectations of living independently as long as possible, despite the misgivings of family members and growing health concerns. According to a recent AARP poll, 87 percent of senior citizens indicated their intention to age in place and enjoy the comfort and convenience of their own home. In order to age in place, a home must be safe and allow seniors to perform activities of daily living without difficulty. Home modifications can help eliminate or alleviate difficulties that an older adult may experience living alone. Fortunately, many of them are quite simple and affordable.
As seniors age, mobility may become a problem, even in a house that’s been home to them for decades. It’s important to look carefully throughout the home to identify safety hazards and obstacles to free movement within an otherwise familiar space. Watch for obvious dangers, things like exposed electrical cords and small pieces of furniture, such as a footstool or end table. Begin by reorganizing rooms to create more space for movement, especially if a mobility assistance device, like a walker or cane, is involved. There should always be a clear path, free of obstacles, for walking through each room.
Floor rugs and runners can present a tripping hazard, especially for someone whose footing is not as sure as it used to be. Remove them and consider putting down no-slip traction material or thick carpeting on any section of flooring that could be slippery. If possible, have safety rails installed along hallways, which should always be well-lit. If children are in the house, make sure small toys are kept in a separate room where they won’t present a danger.
Bathrooms are where most in-home accidents take place, particularly those involving elderly people. Bathrooms with tile or some other flooring that becomes slippery when wet should have traction strips in front of the sink and toilet, as well as grab bars alongside the toilet and in the bathtub or shower area. Getting out of the tub or off the toilet can be a very difficult matter for seniors suffering from reduced mobility and strength. Toilet bowls should be from 17 to 19 inches off the floor, especially for wheelchair-bound individuals. Seniors whose motor skills have declined may have difficulty with sink and bathtub fixtures, so be sure to lower the water temperature to minimize the risk of burns. Consider replacing handles with levers, which are easier for an elderly person to use.
While searching the home for safety opportunities, it’s also important to look for ways to foster a more comfortable environment, especially in the bedroom. For starters, seniors who have had their mattress for more than seven years should consider replacing it. Not only is an old mattress unhygienic, it’s also likely no longer providing adequate spinal alignment. Spinal support is critical for a good night of rest, especially for elderly individuals who often already suffer from muscle and joint pain, as it allows them to rest in a position that allows them to sleep deeply, and wake up feeling renewed and with fewer aches. Likewise, minor upgrades like adding noise- and light-blocking curtains can help seniors fall and stay asleep, ensuring they’ll wake up more alert and better able to maneuver safely through their homes day after day.
Light It Up
Adequate lighting is an important factor in mobility and maintaining a safe home for aging in place. Add track or recessed lighting to areas that may get little or no natural light, and place a floor or table lamp in a room an elderly individual spends a lot of time in, such as a bedroom or den. Sensor-activated lighting can be a valuable safety option in the bathroom, as it is in the driveway, front/back door area, garage, and basement. Consider adding stick-on tap lights, which can make it much easier for seniors to turn lights on and off in dimly lit parts of the house.
If making necessary safety upgrades is impractical, consider searching for a home that already has sufficient safety features in place. Some websites allow you to search for accessible housing in your area by using search filters and specifying what you’re looking for. Use a checklist to find the type of home you need.
Aging in place is desirable for most seniors. Those who are able to live at home tend to be less depressed and feel less anxiety, and are more apt to be sociable and seek the company of others.
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