“You think you know the dangers of a beloved senior’s taking a fall or the life-changing things that might result thereafter… But you really don’t, as I chronicle in my POPcycle memoir, “OH MY GOD! WE’RE PARENTING OUR PARENTS: How to Transform this Remarkable Challenge into a Journey of Love.”
In today’s blog we offer our first-ever guest piece. Liz Greene offers senior and POParents a trove of excellent advice to prevent many falls and help the many seniors who so want to remain living safely in their homes.
As you grow older, getting around your home becomes more difficult. Accidents happen and it’s possible that you may experience at least a temporary disability. Unfortunately, it’s not until you start having mobility issues that it becomes clear just how unfriendly many features of your home can be. If you’d prefer to stay in your own home rather than moving to an assisted living center, there are a number of modifications that can be made to your house to make it more accessible.
As a result of failing vision, a decline in coordination and balance, and medical conditions such as Osteoporosis, objects in the path and uneven surfaces can easily cause falls. Start by picking up throw rugs, low level furniture such as coffee tables, and clutter that may create a tripping hazard. Place sturdy furniture or grab bars along frequently used paths to provide extra support when needed. If you use a walker or wheelchair, ensure that the pathway is wide enough to accommodate the extra size — around four feet and clear of obstacles.
Outdoor access points can be made more accessible by the addition of wheelchair ramps. Experts recommend aluminum or concrete wheelchair ramps. When installed properly, concrete ramps will last many years, requiring almost no maintenance. Since wood is a more affordable option, many people choose it instead. Unfortunately, wood ramps require constant maintenance and last only a few years when exposed to outdoor elements.
When negotiating stairs becomes difficult, it might be prudent to relocate bedrooms and bathrooms to the main floor. However In many instances, this isn’t possible. Adding handrails, grab bars, and stair can sufficiently enable the independent use of the stairs. In more extreme cases, stair lifts can also be installed.
Most doorways are far too narrow to allow passage of a wheelchair or walker — luckily they can easily be widened. In order to accommodate a wheelchair, doorways should be a minimum of 32″ wide. However, if the doorway is located in a hallway or requires turning a wheelchair, you’ll need a 36″ door. Additional door clearance can be obtained by installing swing clear, offset hinges.
Creating an accessible kitchen requires a bit more work. Floor space should have a minimum five foot diameter clearance to allow room for a wheelchair to turn around. Since it’s difficult for people in wheelchairs to reach standard counter tops, they should be lowered to 30″, with a minimum knee clearance of 27″ from the floor. Under counter cabinets can be taken out to create access to the sink or work area. Install a shallow sink with a single lever faucet. Garbage disposal and exhaust fan switches should be moved within reach.
The bathroom is one of the most problematic rooms in the house for someone with mobility issues. Transferring from a wheelchair to the bathtub can be extremely difficult. Bathtub grab bars can be installed to provide support. There are also tub transfer seats to allow for sitting in the tub without having to lower your body to the tub floor. However, since many people find it exceedingly difficult to use a tub, it might be a better idea to replace it with a roll-in shower.
Standard residential toilets are usually 17″ high which can be too low for those who have trouble getting up. Consider replacing it with a 19″ toilet or installing a raised seat. It’s also a good idea to install grab bars around the toilet for extra support.
Sink access can be improved by removing vanity cabinets. While pedestal style sinks can give you more room to maneuver, they are usually a couple of inches higher than the standard vanity top, making them difficult to use from a wheelchair. Wall mounted sinks are usually the best option for those in wheelchairs.
The demand for accessible housing is increasing as senior citizens become a larger share of the population. There are even rumblings of creating age friendly communities, designed to be more conducive to older adults’ health, well-being, and ability to age in place. Until then, you can make your home accessible with modifications, allowing for continued independent living and the ability to remain active and depend less on others.
Liz Greene hails from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene
This is the first of many Guest Posts that we will be offering to our POP community. If you have an interest in Guest Posting for POP please email firstname.lastname@example.org