Simple principles can be utilized to modify an existing home and create a more effective space for aging in place. Though these concepts will reduce risk factors for any occupant, they’re particularly relevant for an elder resident’s safety. Enabling dignified self-sufficiency and functional independence are the desired outcomes.
Lighting- Vision gets worse over time. If I could reverse one thing about my own aging process, this would be it. (I am not a candidate for corrective surgery.) Providing proper lighting is not difficult. The lack of it, makes activities of daily living more difficult. The entire space should be well lit. I have several Ott-Lites that I rely upon, one by my couch, another on my bedside table and one in my office. Illuminated rocker switches are better/easier to see and use than traditional toggle light switches. If you can increase natural lighting, this has multiple health benefits; pets and plants require sunlight. Balance the quest for more light against the problem of unwanted glare.
Doors- Replace doorknobs with lever-style hardware. Turning knobs can become painful and frustrating with stiff joints and loss of grip that often develops over time. Make sure the locking mechanism functions smoothly; update/upgrade if necessary. Trying to force open a difficult lock will annoy almost anyone but can become a real nightmare for a locked-out elder. Duplicate keys should be given to trusted neighbors; just in case. Consider a lighted key-chain for the front door key. (AARP sent one when I enrolled) Also investigate Security Door-Viewers; confidence is empowering. Check out Lowe’s $20 Giant-Screen version. In fact, Lowe’s has an entire department dedicated to the Accessible Home.
Floors – All floors must be slip-resistant. Get rid of area rugs. Install nonskid tape under rugs that you cannot part with. Optimum Technologies Lok Lift Rug Gripper for Runners, 4-Inch by 25-Feet runs around $10. Eliminate slip/trip points like thresholds wherever possible, or reduce their height. For those who use walkers or canes, low-pile carpeting is safest so the device doesn’t catch and cause a fall.
Stairs- For those living on more than one level, stairs can be especially dangerous. Install skid-resistant carpet treads. Sturdy handrails on both sides of the staircase, if possible are mandatory. Clearly defined steps that indicate where the edge of the tread is, will help prevent falls. 3M has a complete product line.
Entryways – Juggling keys, packages, and mail can unbalance someone entering or exiting. Have a chair, table, bench, or other flat surface for setting things down. Hang an accessible key-hook rack. In addition, provide bright lighting at entryways. Home Depot and Lowe’s both have a wide array of motion detector outdoor lighting. Solar pathway lights should be installed and can also be used in an emergency to provide lighting for nighttime power failures. Homebrite Solar 3 Way LED Path Lights, set of 4, $50 is a wise buy.
Bathroom – The best return-on-investment!
A no-threshold shower (walk-in/step-in) with canted floor (very gradual slope to drain) and well placed grab bars are essential to make bathing safer. These must be strategically installed so they are structurally sound and can handle weight. Put grab bars in the shower, by the toilet and sink and other areas in the room where you may need to steady someone or help support a wet, slippery, full-sized human. A single-handled faucet control reduces the chance of scalding at the sink, and a pressure-balanced control does the same in the shower. A hand-held shower head (Home Depot’s $50.00 Waterpic with 5′ hose) was extremely helpful to me when I was recovering from knee surgery. An accident and subsequent operation gave me first-hand experience with mobility challenges. Last, but not least, the $50 Lowe’s hand-held toilet bidet sprayer helps promote personal hygiene and preserve dignity.
Sidewalks- Streets made safer with adequate sidewalks are better for everyone; people walking to work, a parent pushing a stroller, a child riding a bicycle to school. The shared space created by a neighborhood sidewalk encourages community. City officials need time to honor this concept. Begin the process now.