Nearly 90 percent of older Americans want to stay in their current homes as they age. Overwhelmingly, that's where people want to live if they need care as they get older. But sometimes, features in your loved ones’ homes can be their biggest obstacles to remaining independent. By making easy small-but-practical accessible design changes you can transform your loved ones’ "home sweet home" into "home safe home."
No-Cost Accessible Design Changes
- Remove all scatter and throw rugs, which can lead to falls.
- Open blinds and curtains, and raise shades during daylight hours to increase natural light inside the home.
- Place electrical, phone, and computer cords along walls where they will not trip anyone. To avoid the risk of fire, do not run the wires under carpeting.
- Remove clutter from the staircases and hallways to prevent trips and falls.
- Set the hot-water heater to 120 degrees to prevent scalding and to reduce energy consumption.
While all these accessible design changes can be done without spending money, you might find some changes are hard for your loved one to accept. For instance, Mom may like her scatter and throw rugs because they add color to her rooms. It's important that you explain to her why you are suggesting removing these trip hazards. Tell her you want her to consider the change because you're worried about her falling and seriously hurting herself. Be creative in how you approach the conversation—perhaps suggest that she could move the rug from the floor to the wall or add throw pillows on a chair or sofa to add color without safety risk!
Low-Cost Accessible Design Changes
As you make these easy and no-cost accessible decorating changes, look around your parents' house to see whether or not you could take additional steps to ensure the safest possible home. Here are some easy low-cost changes that run between $35 and $75 and will make a home even safer:
- Increase lighting by using the highest-watt bulbs possible for fixtures or lamps.
- Place double-sided tape or carpet mesh under area rugs to prevent slipping.
- Install offset hinges on all doors to add 2 inches of width for easier access.
- Replace traditional light switches with easy-to-use, rocker-style switches.
- Install night-lights in hallways between bedrooms and bathrooms.
- Replace knobs on cabinets and drawers with easy-to-grip, D-shaped handles.
- Add anti-slip strips in the bathtubs and showers.
- Mount grab-bars in the bathtubs, showers, and place a sturdy waterproof seat in the shower so your loved one can sit down while bathing or showering.
- Install a handheld adjustable shower head for easier bathing.
- Install handrails on both sides of each stairway to support your loved ones' sure footing.
- You can find low-cost tools and products at your local hardware or home improvement store. It's important that you or a contractor properly install all the updates, so find a reputable handyman to help you if you need assistance.
It might be hard for your loved one to consider certain features, such as the installation of grab-bars in the bathroom. "I don't want those things," Mom might say. "It'll look like a hospital room." This is the time to speak from your heart. Use "I" statements. Tell her you worry about her and you want her to be safe in her home. Add that grab-bars come in a range of colors and finishes that can match the decorating scheme of any bathroom. Tell her the days of "institutional-looking grab-bars" are long gone. Go with her to the store to look at what's now on the market.
In addition to the accessible design changes listed above, always remember to have a properly rated fire extinguisher in the kitchen area, and fire and carbon monoxide detectors on all floors of each house.
Since your loved ones likely want to live at home as long as possible, consider more extensive accessible design changes to the home so that it will be sure to meet loved ones’ daily living needs. Design features such as multi-level countertops and pull-out drawers in the kitchen provide easy access to pots and pans. No-step entries to the home may cost more, but they can make homes safer and more comfortable for everyone.
AARP and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) have collaborated to help develop a certification program for remodelers, builders, and developers who focus on the connections between home design and the needs of aging people. The Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) program teaches building professionals about the changing needs of people as they age. The curriculum also explores a range of products and building techniques that can be employed to remodel a home better support aging in place. There are currently more than 1,700 certified professionals in the United States.
No home can be "sweet" if it isn't "safe." The types of home features and accessible decorating changes described here make homes easier to use, which increases the independence of residents and makes caregiving easier.