Adapting Homes to Seniors' Changing Needs
More Americans are choosing to "age in place." That is, they opt to stay in their homes rather than move to alternative retirement settings.
But that often means they must modify their home, so it's not a danger to their safety and health when their physical abilities change.
A new career field has risen to address this need: the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), a program of the National Association of Home Builders. Certified individuals assess homes to identify and recommend modifications to prevent injuries from falls and other risks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one-third of Americans age 65 and over fall each year. The CDC adds that environmental factors lead to about half of all falls that occur at home. In addition to tripping hazards and poor lighting, these factors include a lack of needed modifications, such as bathroom grab bars, handicapped showers, stair railings and ramps. The organization offers a checklist to make sure an older adult's home is as safe as possible.
Home modifications help seniors maintain quality of life. They often prevent injuries that lead to a loss of independence and early admission to an assisted living or long-term care facility.
The following are examples of commonly recommended modifications:
- Install grab bars for toilets and tubs and install a walk-in tub and/or tub seat
- Remove unnecessary throw rugs and fasten down rugs or floor runners to prevent slipping
- Move furniture to create clear walking paths
- Keep objects off the floor and coil or secure cords to the wall to prevent tripping
- Replace doorknobs with lever door handles
- Apply non-slip tape on uncarpeted indoor and outdoor steps
- Replace standard light switches with rocker-style switches
- Increase the width of doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs and, where possible, lower sinks and countertops
- Move often-used items to lower cabinets to avoid the need for step stools
- Repair or replace loose handrails and install adequate lighting in stairways
- Install an elevator or chair lift
- Install an elevated dishwasher or one with drawers for easy access
- Replace old stoves with induction cook tops to help prevent burns
- Replace ceramic tile floors with hardwood or vinyl for safe standing
Shedding Light on Home Modification
When modifying a home for a senior, don't forget the importance of good lighting. Seniors need two to three times as much light in order to see as well as younger people.
Good lighting -- in the form of natural light -- provides seniors safety and other advantages:
- Sunlight provides a good dose of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb more calcium to strengthen teeth and bones. Choose window treatments that let in sunlight, without glare, to enhance the health of seniors, many of who get outside less than they used to.
- Daylight also improves psychological health. It lessens the energy-zapping effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and other forms of depression.