An article by Xavier De Buck.
Have you ever stopped and thought about how to safely senior proof your home?
Yet, if I were to ask you whether you have made the necessary adjustments to senior proof your home, there aren’t too many of you who will answer that question positively.
Let me put it to you differently:
What is the leading cause of death from injury among people above 65 years?
Can you believe that?!
If that answer caught you off guard, wait until you read the following shocking facts about falls:
* 1/3 of all people over the age of 65 fall annually;
* Hospital stay is 2x as long for those who fall than those who are admitted for any other reason;
* 2/3 of those who fall will do so again within 6 months;
* 1/4 of seniors who fracture a hip will die within 6 months of the injury;
* More than 50% of all fatal falls involve people 75 and older;
Most profound effect of falling is the loss of functioning associated with independent living.
As if those figures weren’t bad enough, if you know that 6 out of 10 falls actually happen at home, “there’s no place like home” could get quite a different meaning, wouldn’t you say?
Whether your senior parents (in-law) still live on their own (probably at the family home), downsize and buy a retirement home, or plan on moving in with you one day, if you haven’t made any changes to safely senior proof your home, you are really setting yourself up for them to eventually suffer a personal injury.
And, as you could see in the statistics above, things take a serious turn for the worse after that!
Yet, there are so many things you could do to senior proof your home, and hereby making your home (or theirs) a much safer place to live!
With the years ticking by (too) quickly, we are steadily climbing further and further in our 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s.
And, as we are all getting old(er), we sometimes forget that our parents (in-law) aren’t getting any younger either!
Improvements in medical technology/advancements and lifestyles have caused many of our seniors to live longer and longer.
However, the homes these seniors bought several decades ago are very likely not suitable anymore for the increased need for more safety requirements!
So, what’s one to do?
Here are 5 major areas you ought to focus on when looking to safely senior proof your home:
#1 – Walkways – Time to take that important step!
Each room in the house will have its own challenges, depending on the respective layouts.
As a general rule applicable throughout the house, the functionality and placement of all furniture will need to be reconsidered within the house if you wants to safely senior proof your home!
Does it need to be cleared from entrance ways to provide easy passage?
Seniors might easily walk into, or worse, cause them to fall by having some furniture in the wrong place! Remove anything that could potentially make your seniors trip. The presence of lamps and extension cords are are definitely a favourite cause of tripping. Slipping on throw rugs or slick floors can cause painful falls. Use non-slip rugs or secure them to the floors and/or stairways.
Install sturdy handrails throughout the passage and stairways. Besides the floor or underground being secured, seniors can now freely walk around the house using the aid of the railings!
Clear the hallways of any furniture or other items which could not only hinder walking, but potentially be harmful when falling onto/into! Just to repeat the obvious: be generous with non-slip strips on floors and steps!
#2 – Lighting – Time to see the light at the end of the hallway!
As much as those chandelier lighting in the dining room and living areas were mostly for aesthetics purposes when they were initially purchased, there will be a strong need to install as much extra lighting around the house as possible!
After all, our seniors’ eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be!
There will need to be extra light switches at different ends of the (larger) room areas, as well as at every door entry along the passage ways, to ensure that seniors can enter and exit every room without ever having to stumble in the dark because there were no light switches nearby!
For that matter, getting nightlights installed throughout the hallways will make any dark, shadowy areas in the house a thing of the past and will be a great (and cheap!) way to safely senior proof your home!
We are all looking for more green or eco-friendly LED lights in our homes, but make sure whichever wattage bulbs you get that they’re providing enough light for those seniors.
Especially on stairways and in hallways!
What medical alert button? I’ve got SIRI on my iPhone!
One needs to emphasize the importance of access in the bathroom for the mobility-challenged seniors whose knee and leg muscles aren’t what they used to be!
Getting up and down from the toilet might be something most of us take for granted, but at a certain age, it might become quite cumbersome.
An elevated toilet seat easily overcomes that problem!
Furthermore, some grab bars alongside the toilet will go a long way in keeping any toilet-going seniors safe from losing their balance.
Along the same lines as ease of access will be the shower set-up: stepping in and out of the bath tub could be quite treacherous. Slippery underground caused by water spillage or wet feet/body can easily lead to falls!
A walk-in shower (ideally step-free) will give one so many advantages: ease of access, hand rail installation, even shower chairs could now be an option.
If no alterations can be made to the existing bathroom set-up, make sure to use anti-slip mats, perhaps have a transfer bench or step alongside the bath tub for easier entry and exit from the bath!
Regardless which option the bathroom may potentially offer as a solution, there needs to be a backup medical alert button nearby at all times!
Bathrooms are notorious places for falling accidents to happen!
Quick tip: try to install a temperature-controlled shower head or bath tub faucet, which can avoid any scalding from taking place. Perhaps one could try to lower the water temperature at the source (i.e. water boiler or geyser) to make scalding incidents completely obsolete!
Finally, as having privacy in the bathroom shouldn’t be too much to ask for, in the event of a fall, outside help could easily gain access to the bathroom via the installation of ‘bathroom safe locks’. These lightly-upgraded door knobs allow to be unlocked from the outside and are an effective way to safely senior proof your home!
#4 – Kitchen – Time to get shelved!
As seniors prefer to stay at their family home, their cooking activities in the kitchen need to remain a safe event as well!
First of all, adjustments might want to be made to the current shelving set-up. Ideally as many undercounter shelves as possible ought to be converted into pull-out drawers! No more need to bend over, or get on hands and knees to reach for some of the kitchen appliances stored in the back of the shelves.
On the kitchen counter tops themselves, everything needs to be within easy reach. Avoid storing any frequently-used appliances too high from reach, hereby eliminating any potential struggles seniors might have in getting a hold of those appliances!
Some kitchen appliances might be outdated, or be in need of replacement. More modern options might be preferable, as the majority of those will have an automatic switch-off mechanism. Eliminate any potential fire hazard right there! And have a small fire extinguisher nearby in case of seriously failed Jamie Oliver cooking experiments!
Verify whether all carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are still in good working order!
#5 – Mobility – Time to get around!
Time to start enjoying retirement! Right?
Seniors in a wheelchair (or scooter) might experience trouble getting around in their own home as it is built right now!
The (interior) doorways might need to be widened to provide for better manoeuvrability with a wheelchair (and/or walker or scooter). And, similarly, outside access via a wheelchair ramp isn’t available at every home!
After all, very few homes are built with wheelchairs in mind.
Before putting in a ramp, make sure to double-check the options with a contractor on how to best go about it from a safety, as well as a potential property resale value point-of-view!
Perhaps spending that kind of money would be better allocated towards the installation of a vertical platform lift (which doesn’t leave such a ‘negative footprint’ as a ramp would).
The above-mentioned 5 major areas you need to focus on to safely senior proof your home will take up some time to get it properly organized or set up!
Whereas most of these tips and suggestions are things you could probably do yourself with a reasonably small budget (depending on the ambitions of the larger projects of course), you might want to call in your local handyman or contractor for assistance!
In the end, it really isn’t that much of an effort to safely senior proof your home, knowing your parents (in-law) can now move about freely without having to worry about potentially slipping, falling or hurting themselves!