Houses and flats may age, but not in a way that it’s habitants do. Homes tend to become dangerous places for aging people, if they are not modified to suit the new needs of its occupants. When and where home modifications can be implemented in the way that they support staying and aging in place, a possibility for the elderly is provided to maintain their independence for a longer period.
When first thinking of modifications for this purpose, already the first one or two questions can get us a headache. What should I start with? Am I missing something? Is it really necessary, or can we do without it? Now already, or maybe later? The expensive or the cheaper solution will do? And so on…
If it is you who is going to use all those novelties, you should start paying attention to your using habits in your space and spot the possible dangers or inconveniences as they will probably develop to a danger later. Start with the most simple and obvious ones. If you are doing this for your parents, or your aging loved ones, you could appoint a separate day when you can go through the home with them together and discuss those habits of theirs you are not familiar with, in order to make informed observations.
You will want to make sure your exterior walking areas are made of easy to maintain materials, like brick, concrete, exterior tiles (the latter need to be checked on being evenly set). You will also want to make sure they are not covered with leaves, dry or wet, moss, dirt or anything slippery.
I have seen many pathways to the front door of a place where you needed to avoid smaller or bigger objects put there either for decoration purposes, or because its permanent place haven’t been decided about yet. Such cluttered pathways are already risky for someone with an unsteady gait.
Areas of frequent snowing or raining with temperatures below zero should have dry entrances, i.e. covered ones in order to prevent them from becoming slippery due to frozen rain or snow.
Even if it is not a problem yet to take one or several steps, you should consider creating an alternative entrance which can be reached step-free and also covered where needed.
Perhaps you are still fit enough to hold your fully packed shopping bags while unlocking the door, but it might become difficult in the upcoming years, so some sort of shelf or bench nearby is a good idea for putting your bags on.
The entrance door itself should be wide enough even for a wheelchair, i.e. at least 90 cm. Newer doors are usually equipped with some sort of peephole to see who is in front of it and a secure chain allowing you to safely only slightly open the door. If these are not already built-in, you should consider fixing it. If your door has doorknobs, you might want to replace them with lever-style handles, as these are more comfortable to use.
Walking Challenges Inside the Home
Look around. Is there too much furniture or extra bits and bobs in the living space? The two extra chairs and a side table that were bought on some auction decades ago must be cute, but, are they really necessary if they make the space overcrowded? And that huge pot with a tall, wide plant that makes you walk around it whenever you want to open or shut the window? Can they be placed elsewhere, so that they are not in your way?
Are there any thresholds that can be considered hazardous? Any rugs or carpet folding that could cause a trip over or even a fall? Any objects standing on the floor, not high enough to be in the eyesight of a walking person? Ideal for bumping into! That lovely, fifteen inches high porcelain elephant brought back as a major souvenir from a trip to India, standing by the doorway as a decoration? It could easily be forgotten about for a moment in a hurry to open the door to someone, or in the night walking to or back from the toilet.
Not one floor should be polished in the home with wax or similar. It is always a better idea to have rough surfaces to walk on than on too smooth, slippery ones.
Do you have extension cords in place? Are they long enough to be lined along the walls, or are they lying across the room, being in the walking way? They represent a huge risk of tripping and falling over. You should seriously consider removing them, or at least covering them with cord covers, so that no one can trip over them.
Varnished wood see-through stairs (with an open back) can really add to its background, but can also cause slipping of even a younger, let alone an elderly foot all the way through that open back and lead to serious injury and/or bone fractures. It is so not worth of the risk. Steps should have a non-slippery insert, wide and deep enough that a foot can comfortably find a support on it, even if the rest of the step is shiny and slippery. You can find self-adhesive rubber or similar non-slip strips if you do not want to cut the steps. All steps should be checked and fastened if some of them are loose, nails and any fastenings should be even with the surface, not raised the slightest bit above.
Carpet covered steps can be more dangerous than they appear at first sight. It can seemingly be tightly attached to the step itself, but over the time, the glue might have dried out at some places and the carpet might need just a slight straining to come off. It is always a good idea to check the steps one-by one and repair where needed.
Another thing to think about when speaking of stairs are the rails, from both sides, so that they can be comfortably reached with either of hands, or with both, if necessary. Rails should be running long enough that they can be grabbed when standing on the top of the staircase, prior to stepping down onto the first one and without a need to bend in order to reach them.
The sight in seniors tend to weaken and despite wearing suitable (or more often, unsuitable) glasses, better lighting in the home will certainly be of help. Check all the bulbs in the house, replace if not working, some with brighter ones where possible. You could also add more light sources to places that tend not to be bright enough, for instance, during shorter, darker winter days. Think of hallways, staircases, both leading upstairs and of those leading to the basement, pantries, kitchen working surfaces, even inside cupboards.
Speaking of staircase lights, you should be able to switch them on and off both at the bottom and at the top of the stairs. The same goes to a long hallway and all other bigger rooms with two entrances.
Night lights that can be plugged in sockets, outlets around the house is a good idea, as well, especially along stairs and the way you might walk at night. They can be automatic, motion sensible, so they turn on as you approach the area.
If you have a habit of going out to the kitchen at night for a glass of water or squash, you might consider installing some easy to switch on lights above the sink or the counter where these are standing.
A few working torches should be spread through the rooms in the house, at places easy to remember and easy to reach in dark, for the case of potential electricity outage.
Another improvement to consider is installing a motion-sensitive light at the porch, in front of the entrance door. Also, a flashing light above or near your house number or name which can be switched on to indicate the exact place when an ambulance or similar help is expected. It could save valuable seconds of searching.
A very important item of the bathroom is a non-slippery floor. The shower and the bathtub must have non-slip strips or mats. If rugs are in use, they should have rubber backs. A double-sided tape could help if they don’t. A rubber carpet mesh, cut to size, could also help to secure the rug in place.
The shower could also be equipped with a foldable seat and some grab bars on the wall. Grab bars should be installed in the bathtub and adjacent the toilet, as well. You can find vacuum-adhesive grab bars, but they tend to let-off at some point, so they should not be considered exactly that reliable. Better spend a little more, but be sure you’ve built in the secure ones onto enforced walls which will hold the weight of a tripping or falling body, or simply help when getting up or out from the shower, for example.
The shower head itself should be adjustable and would be best if it could be also held in hand if chosen to do so. Handles for water operation in the shower, in the tub or above the sink are easier to use if they are lever-style instead of the knob-style ones.
In time, a higher model than standard toilet will be more comfortable, so you can think of raising itself, replacing it with a higher model or rely on using a toilet-raiser. They come in many designs, with different features. Also, you’ll want to make sure the paper roll holder is in comfortable reach from the toilet itself and changing the roll int it is easy enough, even with one hand if the other is holding a walking cane for instance.
It goes without saying that all the electrical appliances in the bathroom should be kept unplugged, except in use.
Ideally, the hight of the counters and the cupboards in the kitchen should be adjusted to the height of the person using it. We all know that by aging our bodies shrink a bit in height and we are not able to stretch that much anymore. Therefore, we might find our previously so loved kitchen not so comfortable for use nowadays.
Contemporary kitchen plans usually include multilevel surfaces for multiple-person-use. If yours is not that kind, you might want to lower the upper cabinets and built in a counter for working on it seated, with enough space for your knees under it. You might even consider replacing lower cabinets with drawers, as they provide a much easier access.
The controls on a stove are better accessible if closer to the front end instead of needed to be reached for over the flames or hot pots. They are also of good visibility, with very clearly marked cooking levels.
If there is an extractor fan, make sure it works properly, it’s filters are cleaned or replaced if dirty. If there isn’t one, you might consider building in one, or ensuring there are windows big enough and easy to approach and open if fresh air is needed.
What is rarely thought of until too late, is a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. It should be small enough to be lightweight, but big enough to be able to put out an accidental fire caused by oil splashing or a tea towel, maybe a curtain over the naked flame, or even a broken, overloaded electric outlet. Make sure it is suitable for distinguishing most kinds of fires that can occur in a kitchen.
Bedroom and Living Room
As no place in a home, the bedroom should also not be cluttered. The bed should be positioned so that it allows easy access from both sides. A somewhat higher bed allows a person to easily sit on it, and lay down, as well as get up fairly quickly when needed. Many well manufactured raisers for a bed can be purchased, but an individual, home-made solution is as good as those are. The room itself needs to be well lit by a daylight whenever it is possible. The wardrobe cupboards, if any in this room, could be equipped with extractable rods, which make taking out and putting back a hanger with clothes very comfortable. We have already mentioned lights in the cupboard. It can be very annoying not to be able to determine in the dark of the cupboard depth whether that blouse or shirt is the navy or the black one…
We also discussed moving the furniture in such way that it allows the comfortable walking around the home, which means there should be a clear, wide enough pathway for moving even with a frame, if necessary. Any larger rugs that need to stay must be fastened to the floor with double-sided tapes. Good quality nonslip mats are also suitable for this task. Smaller rugs should not be kept as they are an obvious risk of tripping and even falling. They can easily even roll up if accidentally tripped forming so an even higher and more dangerous obstacle.
A telephone should be easily accessible, not only from the living and bedroom, but from other areas of the home, as well, for emergency purposes. Some people prefer to have one of the specially-designed-for-seniors mobile phones by themselves at all times, often with a preset emergency number.When you buy something from this website, I may receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. Full disclosure here