Simple changes to make home senior-friendly

December 1, 2013 

Dear Savvy Senior: What tips or products can you recommend to help make a home safer and more convenient for aging in place? My husband and I are in our 70s and don’t have the money for any big renovations, but we want to do what we can to stay in our house as long as possible. – Homebodies

Dear Homebodies,

There are lots of small adjustments and simple modifications you can do to make your home safer and livable as you age that are very inexpensive or free. Here are several to consider.

FALL-PROOFING

Since falls are the leading cause of home injury among seniors, a good place to start is by picking up any possible clutter that can cause you to trip such as newspapers, books, shoes, clothes, electrical or phone cords. If you have throw rugs, remove them or use double-sided tape to secure them. And if you have stairs, consider putting handrails on both sides.

Good lighting is also very important, so add lamps or light fixtures where needed, and install brighter full-spectrum bulbs in existing fixtures to improve visibility. Also purchase some inexpensive plug-in night lights for the bedroom, bathroom and hallways, and consider installing motion sensor lights outside the front and back doors and in the driveway.

In the bathroom, get some nonskid bath rugs for the floors, put a nonslip rubber mat or self-stick strips on the floor of the tub/shower, and have a carpenter install grab bars inside the tub/shower.

And in the kitchen, organize your cabinets so the things you use most often are within easy reach without using a step stool.

SIMPLE MODIFICATIONS

Growing old can also bring about various physical limitations that can make your home more difficult to use. Some simple solutions, for example, that can help weak or arthritic hands is to replace round doorknobs with lever handles, or get some inexpensive doorknob lever adapters. The same goes for twist knob kitchen or bathroom faucets. You can easily replace them with lever faucet handles that you can purchase for a few dollars in most hardware stores, or get a single lever handle faucet installed.

In the kitchen, you can make your cabinets and pantry easier to access by installing pullout shelves or lazy susans. And D-shaped pull handles for the cabinets and drawers are also recommended because they’re more comfortable to grasp than knobs.

In the bathroom consider getting a hand-held adjustable showerhead installed, and purchasing a shower or bathtub seat, so you can shower from a safe seated position if need be. And for easier toilet access, purchase a toilet seat riser for a few dollars. This can make sitting down and standing up a little easier, especially if you’re 6 feet or taller.

And if you get to the point where you need to use a walker or wheelchair, you can adapt your house by installing ramps on entrance steps, and mini-ramps to go over high entrance thresholds. And, you can widen the doorways an additional 2 inches by installing “swing clear” offset door hinges.

MORE TIPS

For many more tips, visit The Fall Prevention Center of Excellence website at homemods.org, and see “The AARP Home Fit Guide” (publication D18959) which offers dozens of modification suggestions to make your home safe and livable as you age. You can access it at online at homefitguide.org, or if you’re an AARP member, call 888-687-2277 and ask them to mail you a free copy.

Or, if you want personalized help, get an in-home assessment with an occupational therapist, or OT, who can evaluate your home, make modification recommendations and refer you to products and services to help you make improvements. Medicare will pay for a home assessment by an OT if prescribed by a doctor. Ask your physician for a referral.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior.”

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