Safe and Accessible: Easy Home Modifications for Seniors
Older adults often live in homes that require modifications to make them safe and accessible. A senior living in a home that was perfectly fine just a few years ago may find that getting around is just too difficult now. Stairs, slick surfaces, and too-narrow entryways can turn a familiar property into a threat to a senior’s well-being. Left unmodified, such a home may leave a senior’s family searching for an expensive living facility that meets all their needs or for another home that’s been made accessible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, home modifications and repairs can reduce home accidents by up to 50 percent. Many such modifications are quite simple and inexpensive to make.
An aging adult with failing eyesight requires enhanced lighting to avoid tripping and missteps. Make sure dim hallways are lit with bright bulbs and have handrails where needed, such as in the stairway. Bathrooms should also be brightly lit. Consider installing sensor-activated lighting for ease of use and so an elderly individual doesn’t have to fumble for the light switch in a darkened space. Add table or floor lamps in other rooms that don’t get much natural light. Plentiful lighting can go a long way toward preventing potentially fatal in-home falls.
Statistics show that the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house for older adults. In fact, more than one in three seniors over age 65 suffer falls every year and, according to the National Institute on Aging, 80 percent of these take place in the bathroom. Poor eyesight, diminished reflexes, and reduced balance make it harder for seniors to catch themselves in time to keep from falling. That’s why a properly modified surface and walls with grab rails along the toilet seat and in the bathtub or shower are essential. Grab rails should be well-anchored into studs and placed within easy reach of an elderly individual. Bear in mind that these are not like towel racks, which aren’t intended to bear heavy weight. Slip-resistant mats or strips should be added in front of the sink, the toilet and definitely on the surface of the shower or tub. If access to the tub or shower is a problem, consider replacing it with a no-step or roll-in shower with a chair in which a senior can sit safely and comfortably while bathing.
Doors and Doorways
For an older adult in a wheelchair, or with a walker or cane, moving from room to room through doorways with uneven thresholds can be dangerous. Replacing thick carpeting with tile or hardwood flooring can resolve this danger and improve accessibility. Door knobs are often difficult for elderly people to use and should be replaced with levers that can easily be grasped and turned. Doorways should ideally be 36 inches wide to provide sufficient room for a wheelchair-bound person to pass through. Bear in mind that widening a doorway isn’t necessarily an easy modification and likely will require the help of a contractor, preferably one with experience making senior-friendly home modifications.
Safety and accessibility are common problems for seniors in the kitchen. Standing at the counter preparing food for prolonged periods can be difficult, and access for those in wheelchairs is impossible unless counters are lowered to 36 inches off the floor, with leg room underneath. Frequently used kitchen items should be kept within easy reach at counter level.
If you’re unable to make sufficient modifications, it may be necessary to find an accessible home that’s ready for moving in. Make a checklist to find what you’re looking for, and use search filters when looking online (homes in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, typically sell for $452,000).
Barrier Free Home provides an extensive list of filters that let you search according to county, ADA compliance, number of bathrooms and levels, and much more.
Studies have shown that a vast majority of seniors today wish to age in place. That means safety and accessibility are of paramount importance. Fortunately, many simple modifications can be made that will prevent accidents and improve ease of use.
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