Living at home: It’s a heartfelt desire shared by the majority of aging adults, but it can slip out of reach as the wear and tear of years complicates daily life.
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There are simple ways, however, to make staying at home more viable for you or someone you love, says geriatric specialist Ami Hall, DO. Many of these tips involve easy-to-find items that often cost less than $50.
Eliminating falling hazards is a major focus of the to-do list. Falls are the leading cause of injury for older adults, sending 3 million people from the 65+ crowd to emergency rooms every year.
Aging in place home improvement checklist
“Nine times out of 10, people want to stay in their home as they age,” says Hall. “That’s where they’ve spent their life and that’s where they’re more comfortable. With a little planning, it’s often possible to do.”
So let’s get to those items and projects.
Bathroom modifications to stay at home
Bathrooms tend to be a particularly hazardous part of any home, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that injury rates around tubs and toilets increase with age.
Seemingly routine bathroom tasks that once didn’t warrant a thought – like getting up off the toilet or taking a shower – can suddenly become a challenge as the years add up. The solution for that? Grab bars.
A grab bar can help you maintain balance while stepping in or out of the tub, a movement that involves a slippery surface and requires you to stand on one leg for a moment. Grab bars also can provide a stable hold while getting up off the toilet.
Unfortunately, an estimated 42% of people who might benefit from these easy-to-install devices do not have them in their home, researchers found. That adds up to more than 5 million Americans age 65 or older.
“People are often in denial that they need grab bars, or they’re embarrassed and feel like there’s a stigma,” explains Hall. “But it is very important to have them.”
Aside from grab bars, other easy, low-cost ways for you to create a safer bathroom include:
- Adding a non-slip mat or non-slip stickers to your shower floor.
- Placing non-slip mats outside your shower and in front of your toilet.
- Utilizing a transfer bench to get in and out of the tub from a seated position.
- Using a shower chair while showering to prevent slips and falls.
You can purchase raised toilet seats to make it easier to get up and sit down. If you’re up for a larger project, consider installing a comfort height toilet to get those extra few inches of height.
Adding eye-level shelves for lotion, toothbrushes and other toiletries also is a good idea to minimize reaching up in cabinets or digging through lower storage areas.
Lighting modifications to age in place
Aging brings changes to your eyes that can make your vision cloudy. The solution to that issue? Shine a light on it.
Updating your home’s lighting creates brighter rooms that are easier to navigate. Use brighter bulbs in fixtures, too. (One word of caution: Make sure the bulbs you use do not exceed the maximum wattage rating of the light.)
Night lights also are recommended to guide you on any midnight hour walks through a dark home. Low-cost lights also can be added along stairways to illuminate each step, which is key as depth perception often declines with age.
“Anyplace that’s a high-traffic area, you’ll want to make sure it’s well lit,” notes Hall.
Technology to assist older adults
New gadgets in the market can help older adults live at home longer while offering peace of mind, says Hall. These innovations provide a safety net through what has been called “connected independence.”
Smart technology can be used to:
- Deliver daily calendar reminders.
- Disperse medication at set times.
- Turn off stoves left on after cooking a meal.
- Track movement and activity in the house.
- Stay socially connected from afar.
- Send emergency alerts.
Other home tips for aging in place
Hall’s checklist to make a home a safe long-term living option for older adults also would include:
- Removing rugs, which create a potential tripping hazard. “As people age, they tend not to lift their feet as high when they walk,” says Hall. “Anything that’s a raised surface could cause a fall.”
- Clearing walkways and stairs of items that could cause a stumble.
- Add a grab bar at the top of stairs. Handrails typically end with the last step, so the grab bar can offers a bit of support for the end of the climb.
- Keep often-used items on easy-to-reach shelves so you don’t have to stretch or climb up.
- Use bold, bright colors – particularly in high-travel areas of the home – to provide better contrast to help with fading vision. On the same note, consider using reflective tape to mark the edge of steps.
Hall recommends beginning to make changes before aging demands it. “Don’t wait until there’s an issue,” says Hall. “It’s never too early to begin creating a safe, long-term living environment.”