As we age, it’s inevitable our lives will change. Seniors often suffer from a gradual deterioration of their eyesight, hearing, strength, and coordination. These factors must be taken into consideration when preparing a home for seniors.
The best way to approach this is to first conduct a hazard analysis of your house. On paper, divide it into sections, such as yard, entrance, hallway, living room, kitchen, stairs, bathroom, bedroom, etc.
Brainstorm separately for each section. Ask yourself important questions like:
- What could cause an accident to somebody with poor eyesight?
- What could help a person with poor coordination to navigate this area?
- In the event of a fire, how would a deaf person hear the smoke alarm?
Put yourself in the shoes of an older person and walk through your home. Imagine what might go wrong and how you could prevent that happening.
You can also contact local senior homes and respected tradespeople and ask them about the modifications they have completed. They may have thought of something you didn’t. But when it comes down to the crunch, it’s your responsibility. You may actually come up with an idea they didn’t to improve your house.
Write down your questions, answers, and ideas on the paper by section. Use your ideas and answers to plan potential changes to your home that make it more senior-friendly.
While some seniors love their yard and will spend hours pruning plants, digging out weeds, and planting flowers, for others, it may be too much of a chore. If mobility is becoming a problem or arthritis is making it difficult to grip gardening tools, then changes are needed.
Consider a simpler yard. Some seniors just have a lawn. This provides them with a little green without being too difficult to maintain. Plus, it’s easier and less expensive to get help to cut the grass than hiring someone to complete more complex gardening tasks.
The pathway or drive to your entrance is especially important. For a senior with poor eyesight and coordination, it is essential to provide a smooth surface with sufficient grip when it’s icy or wet but no uneven areas or cracks that could cause a fall.
If your path is not fit for purpose, you will need to make changes:
- Repair cracked or uneven areas.
- If your path is slippery, scuff it or resurface it with a substance that provides more traction.
- Remove steps and replace them with gradual ramps.
- If you can’t remove steps, install handrails.
- Make steps more visible with outdoor lighting and bright paint or contrast strips.
- Where possible, minimize the distance between the road and your door (no winding paths).
Remember that day when you got to the front door with heavy shopping bags, rain running down your back, and couldn’t slot the key into the lock? Imagine if that’s every day. Little things like multitasking opening the door while holding a shopping bag can be more difficult when you’re a senior.
There are several ways you can make life a whole lot better for seniors at your front door. If there are steps, replace them with a gradual slope or provide a handrail. Add a non-slip mat to your threshold.
An outdoor light helps seniors find the keyhole. However, ensure that any outdoor light doesn’t disturb your neighbors. One that is triggered by a motion sensor is a good idea.
If it is possible, build a porch or cover for the main entrance that provides your senior with shelter from the elements while they’re looking for their key. It’s a bonus if there is space to put down their shopping without it getting dirty and wet.
Entry Security & Convenience
It can be an arduous task to answer the door if the senior has mobility problems or is upstairs when a visitor arrives. You can install wireless entry systems that come with a doorbell, intercom, and entry phone the senior can keep in a convenient location. A video entry phone is excellent for seniors who may be hard-of-hearing. The most sophisticated systems will allow the senior to open the door from where they are without needing to move.
An inexpensive option for important visitors is a key safe. These are installed somewhere outside your house, often in a location that isn’t too obvious. The safe allows a visitor to enter a code and retrieve your entrance door key. You would provide the code to the local police station, hospital, home care or housekeeping service, and close relatives. This would allow quick and easy access in an emergency or regular entry of a caregiver.
A friend of mine’s mother developed Alzheimer’s. Most of the time, her mother behaved rationally. Occasionally, she would try to leave the house in her nightgown at 3 am to go to the job she retired from 10 years before. My friend had a special alarm fitted to the entrance that would call her cell phone if her mother opened the door between 10 pm and 8 am so she could go around and check.
Your senior will probably spend most of their time in the living room, so it’s important that this area is comfortable and safe. Getting in and out of an armchair can be difficult for people suffering mobility problems. However, you can purchase electric, adjustable armchairs that change position to help seniors in several ways. For example, a lift armchair assists the sitter to stand up, and can also ease them down again.
Universal remotes are a wonderful invention. These empower a senior to control all the electronic devices, and maybe also things like lighting and curtains, from the comfort of their chair. But ensure that all wiring and electrical devices are safe and well maintained. In the event of a fire, it will be more difficult for a senior to escape the house. Also, ensure that no wires or cables trail across the floor. They should be secured with cable ties and possibly ducting.
Many seniors wish to retain independence to cook their own meals. It’s important for you to make your kitchen as safe and convenient for them as possible. Think about ways to reduce bending and stretching.
Many appliances can be installed at waist height rather than floor height. For example, ovens that are usually positioned below hobs can be replaced with a wall oven they can open without bending down. Fit appliances with simple controls that use clearly labeled, big buttons.
Clear glass cabinet doors enable seniors to see what’s inside before they open the doors, which can save time and effort. Frequently used items can be stored on open shelves without doors for ease of access.
Sinks should be low enough for seniors to use without stretching but high enough they’re not bending low. The faucet should be controlled by a large lever rather than a more difficult to use tap. Ideally, install a single lever faucet. In serious cases of arthritis, consider fitting pedal-controlled faucets.
There are lots of labor-saving devices you can use around the kitchen to help seniors. Power-assisted can and jar openers are great. Spiked chopping boards can hold a vegetable in place while you cut one-handed. And a kettle tipper helps you pour hot water without danger.
A trolley or scooter is good for moving food from one place to another without needing to carry it. Perching stools are great for sitting high while cooking in the kitchen. And large-handled silverware and deep-rimmed dishes make handling essential eating equipment much easier for seniors with weaker grips.
In an ideal world, seniors would all live in single-level accommodation. However, many are reluctant to leave family homes with all their collected memories. In this case, you’ll need to deal with a staircase.
There are lots of things that can be done to make stairs safer and more convenient. Better lighting is a good start. Fitting two handrails rather than just one makes ascending the stairs a little easier. If there is room, a stairlift can be fitted. And larger homes can even have a through-floor wheelchair lift installed.
If You Can’t Change The Stairs
In some cases, it will be impossible to modify the stairs. An alternative is to move the bathroom and bedroom downstairs, so everything is on one level. If your house is large enough, you can convert a former den or snug into a senior’s annex. You’ll need two adjacent rooms or a large room that can be split into a bedroom and en-suite bathroom.
Your builder will need easy access to the drains and water supply. If your old den is right below your bathroom, that’s ideal. But if your den is on the other side of the house, your plumber may have to do a lot of work to make your dream come true.
In more difficult cases, a new connecting drain or cesspit may need to be dug outside your house. In rare cases, a new boiler may be required to cope with the extension of your house’s water pipes.
When making big changes to a house, it may be necessary to gain permission from local authorities, a landlord, and even neighbors in some complexes. Check the documentation on your house before spending lots of money.
The bathroom is a dangerous place for seniors. Slips and falls are common. You will need to take steps both to decrease the likelihood of falls and improve accessibility.
Non-slip flooring is essential throughout the bathroom. You can also fit non-slip mats in your tub and shower cubicle. If your tub does not have built-in hand grips (grab bars), or the grips are flimsy, swap your tub for one that does have sturdy grips. Grab bars or a shower chair should also be installed beside and inside showers and beside the toilet.
Grab bars should be U-shaped or vertical. Diagonal bars are prone to hand slippage and may increase the likelihood of falls. The grab bars should be securely attached to a sturdy wall. The grab bar and wall should be able to support at least 250 pounds.
Fold-down seats are a great addition to any shower cubicle. Hand-held shower heads with long hoses are great for directing the water to the right places without moving the body. Ensure that there is sufficient lighting in the shower cubicle.
A useful accessory for your senior is a long-handled sponge for reaching those distant parts without bending down. They’re great for scratching backs, too! And some specialist senior bath mats have foot-cleaning attachments.
More Specialist Equipment
If your senior suffers from severely impaired mobility and yet still prefers to bathe in a tub rather than take a shower, you can fit a tub with a door. These walk-in-bathtubs have low steps, side-opening doors, sturdy grab bars, and padded seats inside.
Alternatively, you can fit a battery-powered bath lift that supports your senior’s weight as they climb in and out of the tub. A cheaper option is to install a swivel bath seat. Both fit over an existing tub and can be used to assist a person with restricted mobility to enter the tub. However, swivel seats do not provide the same level of assistance as a walk-in tub or bath lift.
Sinks fitted at low height adjacent to the toilet allow seniors to wash their hands without standing. You can even fit high-tech, hands-free toilet suites that provide automatic washing and drying while the senior remains seated.
Getting out of bed in the morning is difficult for many of us. For seniors, both getting into and out of bed can be a major task. However, it is possible to fit beds with electric raisers that raise seniors into a position where it’s easier for them to stand. The same devices can help them get into bed.
For seniors who require help to get in or out of bed, you can fit hoists. Some of these are permanently affixed to the wall and ceiling. Others are mobile hoists on rollers that can be rolled over to the bed when needed. All assist a caregiver to lift the senior into their bed or out of their bed.
For dressing in the morning, a chair is essential. An easy-reach grabber can be used to help pick up items. And a long-handled shoehorn is great for helping seniors to put on their shoes.
A provision you might want to make is an emergency button next to their bed that the senior can press in the event of a serious problem. This will often be linked to a response center who will call your house to check if it’s a real emergency or mistake and then arrange for someone to come around and check on your senior.
To be able to eat in bed a overbed table will come in handy for a plate and drink glass plus keep a remote control handy. If they want to use a laptop the table will make that an easy task.
Good internal lighting is essential throughout the house. Large light switches that are easy to operate are a good idea. An even better idea is motion sensors that automatically turn on a room’s lights when your senior enters.
Smoke alarms are essential. Use wireless smoke alarms that are connected so when one is triggered the others also go off. For deaf seniors, you can get alarms with vibrating pads or ones that contact an emergency center.
If it is possible, widen door frames for potential wheelchair use. A more serious building project might involve building an extension to your existing home to provide a separate senior annex.
For seniors with memory issues, you can fit an item locator. Small tags are fitted to essential items, such as keys, wallets, and cell phones. When the items go missing, your senior presses a button on the locator and the tag will beep and flash. Also an automatic pill dispenser is a good idea if the senior has trouble remembering when you take their medicine.
As I suggested in the beginning, brainstorm and get everything down on paper. Then, before you begin to make any major changes, confer with your senior. How do they feel about the changes you are planning to make? At the end of the day, it’s they who will have to live with the facilities you provide. It’s only fair they should have a say in what happens in their future.
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