As parents and grandparents begin to age, their independence can become compromised. Remaining in their own home can become a danger, and bringing them into your own home can be just as dangerous. It’s not that difficult to make a home senior friendly. Let’s look at the two most dangerous rooms and the two biggest threats in a senior’s home.
Kitchen dangers are numerous: stoves and ovens, falls, sharp edges, and unstable furniture. You can cover or dull countertop corners and edges to prevent scrapes and cuts. A fire extinguisher should be in anyone’s kitchen, regardless of age, but in a senior’s home, keep it on the counter where it can be easily seen and reached.
Lower overhead cabinets by 3-5 inches to make them more easily accessible, and put the most-used dishes and other items in lower cabinets so they’re easily reached. Stabilize kitchen furniture by making sure that the table and chairs are all steady, level, and don’t slip around on a slick floor – add felt dots to the bottom of chair legs, if necessary.
If the senior is in a wheelchair, lowering and varying counter heights to make them more easily reached, raising the dishwasher and including ample knee space beneath the sink to encourage easy use are also good ideas.
An electric teakettle can also be very helpful. These shut off when the water is ready and don’t require turning on the stove, so if a senior forgets or gets distracted, there’s nothing to worry about. Keep other appliances at hand and easy to reach, such as the microwave or electric can opener.
The bathroom is particularly dangerous, with smooth floors and water that can create serious hazards. The first thing to consider is getting rid of the bathtub and installing a walk-in shower instead. This eliminates slip and fall accidents, which are common when getting in and out of the tub. You should also put down some slip-resistant rugs in and out of the shower.
Grab bars in the shower and next to the toilet can also help seniors keep their balance as they move around. A raised toilet can make it easier to sit down and get back up.
Change the bathroom door so it opens out of the bathroom instead of into it. This provides more room to maneuver over the thresholds. Lower countertops and shelving for those in wheelchairs, so they can more easily reach everything they need.
Make sure there’s plenty of room in the bathroom, too. Don’t put fixtures too close together, or the tightness of the space may increase the risk of falling.
Proper indoor and outdoor lighting is critical for older folks, who are more sensitive to glare and are slower to respond to lighting changes. Consistent, even lighting throughout the home is critical. Use ceiling fixtures that provide lighting over the whole room, with brighter task lights for things such as reading, knitting, or sewing.
LED lighting lasts longer, allowing for less frequent bulb replacement, and also provides intense light in a small bulb that doesn’t use much energy.
Outdoor lighting should be used to light pathways and stairs so that seniors leaving or arriving at dawn, dusk, or in the dark can easily see where they’re going.
Raised Entrances and Stairs
Sunken living rooms, second floors, and raised entries to the house from outside or the garage are all problem areas for seniors. Install chair lifts or a ramp over stairs for those in a wheelchair. Add sturdy handrails to stairs that can’t be eliminated, and consider installing no-step entries to the home and rooms throughout it. If it’s in the budget, a sunken living room can be renovated to be at level with the rest of the home.
Making a home senior friendly requires some adjustments, some of which are a little more expensive than others. You can make changes slowly with the biggest threats first. Compared to the financial, emotional, and mental cost of forcing a senior to live in a nursing home, it is well worth the time and expense to ensure that the home is as accessible and easy to use as possible.