As the Baby Boomer population continues to age, more seniors are faced with the tough decision of whether they are able to remain living in their homes safely. For example, seniors who continue to live in the homes they bought in their younger years, and maybe where they raised their children, may be faced with multiple stories and laborious maintenance. Aging can increase risk when completing tasks like walking up a flight of stairs or mowing the lawn. Knowing this, there are a number of measures people can take to ensure their aging loved ones can still live in their homes and remain safe.
According to national membership, training, advocacy and services organization, Age Safe American, most older people live in homes that are more than 20 years old. Further, a house that was perfectly suitable for a senior at age 55, for example, may have too many stairs or slippery surfaces for a person who is 70 or 80.
However, research by the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that home modifications and repairs may prevent up to 50% of all home accidents among seniors, including falls that take place in these older homes. Ultimately, these preventative measures can be broken down into four categories: accessibility, adaptability, universal design and visitability.
First, accessibility means taking the steps to ensure that the home itself is modified to best meet the needs of seniors. Certain features can be modified so that they are safer, easier to navigate and move around. This may include measures such as making doorways wider, lowering countertops and cabinets, installing grab bars, and making outlets easily reachable. Having a conversation with an aging loved one about what elements of their at-home life present challenges may help loved ones create a priority list for modifications that need to be made immediately,
Next, adaptability expands on accessibility by allowing for quick accommodations that do not require the home to undergo structural change. Without having to redesign a home or incorporate alternative building materials and fixtures, individuals can make small changes that will go a long way. For example, wires that used to run across the floor can be embedded into the walls or floor to prevent tripping and falls. Another example would be installing grab bars throughout the bathroom and kitchen.
More involved, changing a home’s universal design will help to make a living space more senior-friendly. These modifications help to increase lighting, safe mobility and daily activity. While these adjustments can be as simple as adding lighting fixtures to ensure that a senior has enough light to see where they are going, universal design can be more involved if structural changes are needed. This may occur if a ramp needs to be built instead of existing stairs, or if new, slip-resistant flooring must be installed.
Lastly, increasing visitability is in regard to seniors who invite other elderly friends to come over to their homes. This, too, may prompt the need to install a ramp, slip-resistant flooring, grab bars and home cameras. Such changes may also give seniors a head start on home modifications they may need later in their lives. Early action can allow people of all ages to enjoy an independent lifestyle without undergoing a difficult and unexpected transition.
Overall, home needs and requirements change as people become older. Safety should remain a top priority, and family members and loved ones can play an important role in helping to ensure safety — even if the seniors themselves are reluctant to do so. Help them initiate the necessary changes before they get hurt.