Whether listening to John Denver crooning, “Take me home, country roads,” Queen belting, out, “Leaving Home Ain’t Easy,” or Motley Crue singing, “Home Sweet Home,” it is clear that the concept of “home” resonates on a personal level for many people. Songwriters sing about it; travelers dream about it; and people spend a lifetime building it. Home is truly where the heart is. But in many cases, aging bodies make it difficult to live in the home you have lived all along, and it is necessary to make some changes if you want to stay in the place you call home.
Remodel Rather Than Relocate
Research shows that people who stay in their homes are happier and healthier than those relocated to an assisted living or similar establishment. As beneficial as it is to stay at home, however, it is imperative that people take steps to ensure their safety. By making a few changes to your current arrangement, you can make it possible to live a longer, happier life in the place you call home.
Lighting The Way
Adding overhead lighting in places like your kitchen will mitigate the effects of weakening eyesight that many people experience with age.
As people age, eyesight tends to weaken. Investing in better home lighting will not only help you get around your home, but will also keep you safer while doing so. Lack of lighting is one of the major causes of falling -- the main cause of injuries in the elderly.
Overhead lighting is generally a safe choice because, in addition to providing the light you need to navigate your home safely, adding lighting overhead eliminates the possibility of tripping on a lamp cord. Plan on adding more light than you think you’ll need. If you’re worried about having too much light, add light with dimmers so you can dial it down as needed. Aging eyes require much more light than their younger counterparts, so adjusting the amount of light throughout your house helps you age in place safely.
Add lighting to high-risk areas like stairwells in order to lower the risk of falling.
Dexterity in your hands can also become an issue with age. Consider changing out your switches to paddle switches, which are much easier to operate than toggle switches. Additionally, consider motion-activated lights, which will assist you when carrying things as you walk through your home. Motion-activated lighting is especially useful in hallways and staircases.
Cultivating The Kitchen
Adding pull-out cabinets at a reasonable height provides convenient kitchen storage and can help you to keep your balance as you cook.
One of the best parts of a home is the kitchen, where special meals and memories are made. Kitchens generally keep you on your feet, so it’s advantageous to consider renovation ideas. There’s no upper limit on how much you can spend crafting your perfect space, but there are also inexpensive tweaks that offer immediate improvements to your home.
An adjustable faucet with a light included can be a fun way to add light and extra functionality to your kitchen.
Start with a bit of reorganizing. Identify what cookware, utensils, and appliances you use frequently and place them within easy reach. Make the most out of drawers and pull-out cabinets to make it easy to find what you need. Keep small appliances on the counter or on lower shelves so they're easy to access without having to reach overhead.
Choose your flooring carefully. Decorative rugs are visually appealing, but the two most important factors in a kitchen mat are safety and comfort. Rugs become tripping hazards when they curl over, as your foot or walker can catch on the edge. Adding a low-profile and non-slip rug, especially if your kitchen is tiled with porcelain or another material that becomes easily slippery, will keep you and guests safe and comfortable.
Swap out your hardware. Choose accessible, sturdy knobs that make drawers easy to open. Consider installing a positionable faucet so you can fill a pot with water without lifting it in and out of the sink and wash dishes with greater ease.
Give yourself more options for a workspace. Prepping the perfect workspace takes time, and it’s important to consider options that get you off your feet. When adding a kitchen island or a small work table, consider what height facilitates the best working experience, even if it’s not standard counter height.
Bettering The Bathroom
If your budget is limited or you only have time to focus on one room, the bathroom should be your pick. Add grab bars near the shower and toilet to minimize slip-and-fall risks without breaking the bank.
In order to make showering safer and more comfortable, consider this hand held shower head, which can be used while sitting in a shower chair.
A shower chair is a great way to enjoy a relaxing shower without the fear of losing your balance and falling. A positionable, hand-held shower head will make showering in a chair more comfortable, as you can direct the water spray wherever you need it. A raised toilet seat is another easy addition that can help you get up and down from the toilet with ease, especially if you have joint pain or mobility issues.
Adding a pocket or sliding door to your bathroom will assist you in moving through the space, especially if you use a walker or wheelchair.
If you do have the money and time to remodel, consider a zero-step entry shower for ease of entry. Also look at the doors to the bathroom, which is likely the place you might need the most help as you age. Having bathroom doors that swing out, or a pocket door, will make it more accessible if you have a walker, wheelchair, or helper in the future.
Seeing The Larger Picture
When looking at the big picture, consider moving the master bedroom to the first floor for accessibility and less time walking up and down stairs. Other helpful changes to consider include moving your washer and dryer from the basement to the main level, as well as investing in front-loading units.
Widening doorways and keeping doors open make homes more accessible and safer for aging in place.
Structural upgrades, like widening doorways and hallways beyond the standard 36 inches, are a great way to prepare for aging in place. These measures allow room for a wheelchair, walker, or caretaker walking beside you. Integrating new doors, like pocket doors, can also create more space.
Other upgrades, like integrating a no-step entry point using a ramp, can mitigate knee pain and falling risks while providing a wheelchair-accessible way in and out of your home. Additionally, raising outlets and lowering storage in kitchens, closets, and laundry rooms will make accessing your belongings easier and safer. You can also opt to upgrade your door handles from knobs to levers, as one’s grip can weaken with age.
Changing door hardware from knobs to levers can make it easier for aging hands to come and go.
Foresight in situations like these makes for the cheapest, easiest way to age in place safely. Think ahead about measures and upgrades that will accommodate you and your loved one as you age. If you didn’t plan ahead, retro-fitting your home to meet safety and accessibility needs is still usually cheaper and easier than moving.
Thankfully, you don’t have to figure this all out alone. Certified Aging in Place specialists (CAPS) can help you identify the best steps for you or your loved one that will accommodate new needs in your current space. If you are currently working with an occupational therapist, their professional assessment of your situation is another important factor to consider.
Stay in Your Home Sweet Home
As with anything, preparation is the key to successfully remaining at home as you age. Awareness and understanding of the reality of your health and situation will help immensely, rather than sweeping the aging process under the rug and waiting for an accident before taking action.
Aging gracefully involves understanding your limits and identifying solutions that will make you as comfortable and secure as possible. By making a few simple changes with extra lighting, simplified switches, and a raised toilet seat, you will be able to move more easily and safely around the home you know and love. If you anticipate more intensive needs due to illness, restructuring hallways and entryways is well worth the time and money and ensure that you can enjoy your home as long as possible.
When you consider the cost of assisted living or skilled nursing facilities, spending some money to make your current house more comfortable and accommodating will allow you to stay home as you age while still saving money. The place where you have lived and made memories will serve you well into old age if you do a little planning on the front end. And, as Blake Shelton would sing, “That’s what I call home.”
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