Helpful Modifications to Your Home to Foster Independence, Safety, and Comfort

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Donna Mae Scheib

Helpful Modifications to Your Home to Foster Independence, Safety, and Comfort

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on January 15, 2019

Helpful Modifications to Your Home to Foster Independence, Safety, and Comfort

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), almost 90% of seniors over the age of 60 would like to stay in their own homes and “age in place”. Only 9% expressed a desire to move to a care facility and 4% to move in with a relative. What modifications are needed for your loved one to remain independent, safe, and comfortable in their own home?

As seniors age and typically experience reduced flexibility, poorer balance, reduced eyesight, and an assortment of other physical ailments, there are several housing features that are important to address. Most of these features are non-existent in the typical home built in the U.S, especially those built before the year 2000. Many of these suggestions are low-cost and easy to implement. Others may require a professional contractor or electrician and have a higher cost.

But regardless of the time and money to modify the home, there are many advantages to doing so. Besides allowing your loved one to remain at home either longer or even indefinitely, they will help to alleviate excessive worry over falls and other injuries and add to your loved one’s confidence level in living a quality life independently.

  • Safety features such as non-slip floor surfaces – These non-slip surfaces include vinyl, tiles, wood, laminate, and paint in areas that are more prone to become slippery when wet like bathrooms, kitchens, and decks. Often the new surface can be laid over an existing surface, be easily cleaned, and are very hygienic. 

  • Level flooring – Many homes have different leveled rooms (maybe a step up or down to the next room). This aspect tends to increase the probability of falls and injuries because it may be difficult to remember there is a step, it may not be that visible, and it may contribute to offsetting one’s balance. A licensed contractor can access the added cost to make the floors all one level.

  • Bathroom aids such as grab bars, a walk-in shower, treads in the shower, and a chair seat – A walk-in shower helps prevent falls as you will not have to lift your foot over a threshold or climb over a tub. The grab bars and treads help with balance while the seat allows you to rest, catch your breath, and shower safely while sitting down.

  • Entrance free of steps (either a ramp or another zero-step entrance) – Simply put, a ramp or another form of a zero-step entrance allows you to access your home more easily and safely and encourages independence. A zero-step entrance is more compatible with walkers and wheelchairs than steps as well.

  • Wider doorways and entryways (36 in./91.44 cm) – If modifying your house or looking at new construction, it is recommended to allow enough space for a wheelchair to get through doorways and entryways with ease. There is nothing more frustrating than having to keep trying to fit through a door or hitting the sides of the wall when you only want to enter or exit a room or the house.

  • Lever-handed doorknobs and faucets – A senior’s ability to grip a doorknob or faucet declines over time and if the doorknobs and faucets that normally require a turn to the left or right with your wrist are replaced with levers, it is easier to push up or down on them.

  • Higher electrical outlets, lower electrical switches, kitchen countertops at differing heights – These modifications all deal with easier access. As more and more seniors will be dependent on their wheelchairs for mobility, the lower electrical outlets should be placed higher on the wall so they can be reached. Conversely, electrical switches should be placed lower. Kitchen countertops should be designed to be reached. For example, adding additional lower cabinets and storage areas below these cabinets for easier access rather than upper cabinets are suggested.
  • Bright lighting at entrances and non-glare lighting throughout the house – You can examine the light fixtures in your house at different times of the day and night to ensure there is adequate lighting. Lamps and overhead lights can be added if needed. To reduce eye strain, it is important to minimize glare. Anti-glare lighting is available at most lighting and hardware stores. You might consider adding night lights or light plates that automatically emit light when the designated area is dark.

  • Bedroom and full bathroom on the main floor – If the house is more than one story, you could consider converting a room on the first floor to a bedroom or adding a first-floor bedroom. Having a full bath on the main floor will help with safety and convenience as well.

  • Handrails on both sides of the stairs (inside and outside the home) and stair treads – Quite easy to install yourself, these inexpensive features offer an added safety assurance when transferring from one space to another.

  • Anti-scald faucets – By installing anti-scald valves in your faucets, hot water is prevented from leaving the tap and accidentally burning someone. When installed in the bathtub or shower, they offer protection from a sudden burst of hot water and the assurance that the water temperature is controlled throughout the duration of the bath or shower time.

To help support a senior’s wish to stay in their own home as they age, there are many factors to consider to ensure safety and comfort. By assessing your loved one’s home and making some adaptations, you may be able to help your loved one live in their home for a longer time period or even for the duration of their life. These features are well worth looking into.

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