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By Karen Weeks
Low-Cost Tips For Making Homes Senior-Friendly
As we age, it becomes necessary to take a closer look at whether or not our homes are appropriate for our long-term needs. Mobility issues, visual impairment and cognitive decline can make it harder to live alone, especially in a home that wasn’t built with accessibility in mind. Here are a few ways to make your home more senior-friendly and help prevent some of the most common injuries.
Falling is the most common cause of accident and injury for people over the age of 65. SeniorLiving.org explains that seniors are at higher risk of falling for a number of reasons. Balance issues and declining sensory perception along with decreased muscle tone contribute to the increase in falling incidents. Osteoporosis, which is the loss of bone density and tissue, is especially prevalent in women, who experience hip fractures twice as often as men of the same age. To reduce your risk of falling:
- Install lights in dimly lit areas including the stairwell
- Have your carpet stretched to prevent material from catching your toes if lifting your feet becomes a problem
- Add handrails to the porch and grab bars next to the toilet and bathtub
- Repair brakes and cracks on outdoor walkways/patio
- Smooth uneven terrain with crushed limestone
- Remove area rugs
- Eliminate clutter from the floor
Eyesight also tends to suffer with age. Cataracts, which AllAboutVision.com describes as clouding of the eye’s natural lens, is a common vision issue in people over the age of 40. Macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, and even dry eyes can all make it difficult to see where you are in relation to objects and obstacles in the home. To improve your home’s vision-friendliness:
- Add task lighting in small spaces
- Install glow-in-the-dark light switches
- Paint walls a contrasting color from furniture in each room
- Install tactile knobs on the stove and other appliances
- Add non-slip strips and grab bars in the tub and shower
Wheelchair confinement, the use of walking aids and diminished muscle tone can make it more difficult to perform daily activities such as cooking and safely entering and exiting the home. Increased mobility can be achieved with the following tips:
- Widen doorways – you can remove the existing trim and door for free but if your openings are less than 36 inches wide, you may need to cut the drywall to widen the door
- Install a roll-in shower
- Add a wheelchair ramp at the main entrance
- Remove lower cabinets in the kitchen and bathroom – you need at least a five-foot diameter space to turn a wheelchair around
There are dozens of issues relating to age that can impair your ability to remain home and independent. This PDF provided by the NC State University Center for Universal Design goes into greater detail on home modifications to counter the effects of range-of-motion, cognition, hearing, vision and dexterity issues. It was written in 1999 but remains relevant for today’s seniors.
When modifications aren’t an option
If extensive renovations are necessary or remodeling is not within your budget, it may be more cost-effective to move into a home with accessibility modifications already in place. Redfin’s real estate search tool allows you to filter properties based on accessibility as well as more common criteria, including number of bedrooms and price.
Whether you choose to stay in your current home or relocate to a more senior-friendly property, it’s important that safety measures are put in place. Your home should be somewhere you feel comfortable and can relax, not a place that puts you in danger or under stress.
Karen is a Senior Lifestyle blogger. She created ElderWellness.net as a resource for seniors who wish to keep their minds, bodies, and spirits well.