Aging in place in your own home requires more than adaptive clothing and ergonomic utensils. Making your home a safe place to live as you age takes planning and prep work, but many people find it totally worth the effort to be able to stay in a comfortable, familiar place (not to mention save the expense of moving into a retirement community). If you’re interested in aging in place, here are eight home upgrades that you should make pronto:
1. Evaluate your current residence
Not every house or condo is well-suited to aging in place. For instance, if you have stairs, then you might need to get a stairlift installed, which can be quite an expense. Evaluate your current residence to see if it will still be a good fit for your needs as you age in place. If it won’t be, and you are committed to aging in place, then you may want to consider moving sooner rather than later. After all, the older you get, the harder it will be to move. So if you’re going to move, it’s best to do it soon.
2. Reduce fall hazards
Falls are the number 1 cause of injury for seniors, which means that removing all possible fall hazards is key to aging in place. Get rid of any loose throw rugs and re-route any loose extension cords, which can cause you to trip. Keep the floor clear of any clutter and make sure that the walkways are open at all times. Wear slip-resistant soles, such as velcro shoes for women as found on Silverts, even when you’re inside the house to reduce the risk of falls.
3. Let there be light
Dimly lit rooms and hallways also increase the risk of falls, especially at night. Place light switches at the tops and bottoms of the stairs and make sure they are easy to reach in all rooms. Check that the lights clearly illuminate the floor and that you can see the walkway. Replace any burnt-out bulbs promptly and keep spares on hand. Put nightlights in all hallways as well as bedrooms and bathrooms. Make sure that they are motion-sensitive so they turn on automatically, or set them to always be on at night so you don’t have to worry about turning them on.
4. Outfit the bathroom
If you have a bathtub, consider replacing it with a walk-in shower to make it easier to use. Place rubber mats in the bottom to keep yourself from slipping, and install grab bars so you can support yourself when using the toilet, showering or taking off your post-surgery clothing. You can place a bathing chair in the shower if you find it tough to stand the entire time. You might also want to consider installing a raised toilet seat to make it easier to sit and stand. If you’re worried about scalding yourself, see if you can set the water heater to get no hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent burns.
5. Check the kitchen
The kitchen can be a major source of hazards. Get items down from high shelves and store them at lower heights so you don’t have to climb on a high step stool to reach them. To make the sink easier to operate, put rubber covers on the handles or replace the faucet with a level model. Choose knives, pots and other utensils with sturdy grips to make them easier to handle. Make sure that the oven doesn’t have knobs that can be accidentally bumped and turned on. Regularly clean out the fridge to make sure that you’re not eating expired food.
6. Replace handles as necessary
Smooth round handles can be difficult for seniors with arthritis and other mobility issues to operate. If you want to age in place, then consider replacing these with lever door handles or another style that is easier to operate. If that’s too much work, you can also purchase specially made rubber door handle grips that are designed for seniors and made to fit over round door knobs. Simple changes like this make it easier to age in place and stay in your home as long as possible.
7. Replace outdoor stairs with a ramp
Even if your home doesn’t have stairs inside, it might still have them outside, which can pose a real problem as you seek to age in place. If your mobility is severely compromised, then consider replacing the outdoor stairs with a gently sloped ramp that you can navigate by foot or by wheelchair. If you decide to keep the stairs for now, then shake the railing to make sure that it is secure and differentiate the edges of each stair step by painting the tops a contrasting color. If you live in an area where it ices or snows a lot, then consider hiring someone to come clear your stairs and driveway every time it snows so you don’t have to do it yourself and risk falling on ice.
8. Have an emergency protocol in place
No matter your careful preparations, sometimes accidents do happen and emergencies do arise. As a result, you need to have a plan in place so that you can act quickly in case of an emergency. Have emergency numbers such as 911 and Poison Control programmed into your cell phone and also posted on the fridge or somewhere else where they can be easily accessed. Also, keep emergency contacts for family members and friends on hand. Practice how you will respond in different emergency situations (i.e., tripping and falling, burning yourself in the kitchen, etc.). If you live with anyone else, make sure they also practice the emergency protocols with you.
You don’t necessarily have to move as you get older. In fact, aging in place can hugely improve your quality of life, but it does require thoughtful preparation. Make these eight home upgrades if you’re planning to age in place – the sooner, the better!