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The Eldercare Advocate: Home Modifications As We Age

February 26, 2020|agesafeamerica, aging, aging in place, Aging Parents, caregivers, falls, home design, home modifications, home safety, Quality of Life, sleep, universal design, Well-Being, wellbeing

As our lives change, our homes can support, or limit, our ability to live our lives the way we want. Remaining in our homes may begin to present unexpected challenges. Clarifying your ideas about what are the most prudent home improvement investments based on the life you want to create while taking into account your present and changing needs is integral to the home modifications you choose to make. This helps you get the most enjoyment and functional use from your home and the most value from the property. Universal design is a building concept dedicated to building environments that are accessible by anyone regardless of their physical limitations or disabilities from the oldest to the youngest and has been codified in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Most situations for Universal Design involve modifying an existing space with all of its limitations as opposed to new construction where the designer essentially has a blank canvas. 

Changes in our abilities affects our ability to safely negotiate our home environments. How should you determine what changes needed to be made? Here are a few considerations:

Self-Home Need Assessment:

You and family members might do a walk through of each and every room, similar as if you would be buying a home. Note potential hazards and easy fixes: removing a throw rug from the floor beside a bed to avoid the inevitable slip/fall as you step onto it, purchasing inexpensive stick on LED lights to light dark areas, especially during nocturnal trips to the bathroom, and non-slip rugs to remedy wet slippery bathroom floors.

· Consider Upgrading the lighting throughout your home.

This pertains to the need for changing light bulbs. Reaching underneath lamp shades or up into floor lamps can be challenging and risky. There may also be overhead lighting which requires a person to climb on ladders or step stools to replace bulbs. Switch to LED light bulbs which have a longer a life cycle, some up to 50,000 hours, which will reduce the frequency of changing bulbs. At the rate stated above, though this may not be the typical use, if the bulb remains lit continuously for 12 hours/day, it is expected to have a life of approximately 11 years.

An important fact for consideration is that by the time we reach age 75 years of age, in order to see satisfactorily, most people require twice as much light as the recommended standard, and nearly four times as much as a 20-year-old. This is especially true for people with dementia. Dark areas can be confusing to the brain, for the person already experiencing confusion this creates an inauspicious situation. 

. Consider removing any unwanted or unneeded furniture:

This creates more open spaces and more clear pathways for walking. Remove area rugs if needed to avoid slipping or high pile rugs that may cause feet to get stuck when walking. 

“According to the National Association of Home Builders, a five-foot by five-foot clear space in the middle of the living room is a good idea. That leaves enough room to navigate a wheelchair and get turned around properly with a walker—an essential, since backing up with a walker can quickly become a fall hazard. Again, aging in place requires addressing such issues now, since things can change quickly as a person ages. With that in mind, it’s much better to clear that space and have it already open, so you don’t have to worry about creating it when you need it later.” 

· Consider Changing Door Knobs:

Consider replacing door knobs which require turning to lever style. Traditional doorknobs can become more difficult to grip and create challenges because of the torque required for twisting. Inexpensive lever doorknobs easily replace traditional knobs. This can be a do-it-yourself task. If not, friend, family or local handyman can quickly and efficiently make these changes.

· Sleeping:

Most people do not give consideration to their mattress when thinking about modifications in the home. Sleep in general, and sufficient sleep, is important to our health and well-being. It is a time when your body and mind are in a recovery mode and relaxed state. As we age our sleep patterns are often disrupted for a variety of reasons. This is why a comfortable mattress, well suited to your needs requires careful consideration. An adjustable bed may be a good choice at a certain point. It allows you to essentially customize your sleep position by raising and lowering both the head and foot of the bed for maximum comfort as well as well as for sleep positions that may be more beneficial based on changing physical or medical conditions. (i.e., people with respiratory issues, obesity, congestive heart failure, may have more difficulty sleeping while lying flat) Difficulty sleeping lying flat is known as “orthopnea”. 

Professional Home Needs Assessment:

Age Safe America has a 240-point Comprehensive Home Safety Assessment that is performed by a trained advisor, The assessment includes exterior and every room and area inside of the home, including: all entry areas, bathrooms, bedrooms, laundry rooms, garage, basement, kitchen and dining room. It also includes an evaluation of appropriate lighting, fire and electrical safety. Assessments are performed by pre-screened and vetted advisors. A complete report summary is generated upon completion of the home assessment.

Remodeling Needs:

Consult a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. These people receive certification after taking a three-day course through the National Association of Homebuilders. This person is specifically trained in home renovations or modifications geared to older adults.

Exterior Surfaces:

Uneven surfaces and walkways outside of the home contribute to falls as often as situations inside the home. Therefore, keeping walkways safe is crucial. All Shrubs and trees should be appropriately trimmed so that they do not extend onto or hide the walkway. If the walkway has gravel, bark or small stones, consider installing a small curb to avoid particles overflowing onto walkway surfaces which can cause falls. Also, especially for people who live in colder climates, remember to inspect surfaces outside the home after the winter thaw for detected cracks or other uneven surfaces that may need repair. 

When older loved ones who are in their own home environment, families should be observing for signs of difficulty negotiating the home environment. 

Our homes are reflections of our personalities and our values,but must continue to be safe places in our later years.

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Listen to the 2/24/2020 episode on “Home Modifications As We Age” on Voices for Eldercare Advocacy:

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