Depending on the health and mobility of your loved one, you may need to make some adjustments to your home. From precautions to mitigate the risk of falls and injury to making your home more accessible for wheelchairs or walkers, here are eight things you can do to provide a safe environment for your folks.
Poor lighting is a common cause of senior falls since many suffer from diminished vision. Remedy low lighting by adding more and brighter bulbs. Use LED battery-powered, motion-activated, and/or solar-powered lights to illuminate outdoor ramps, paths, and steps. Ensure your entrances are well lit, including the locks on the front and back doors, and think about getting lighted doorbells. You could even get lighted house numbers and paint the numbers on your curb for the sake of emergency responders.
Inside, keep a nightlight in each room and in the stairway. Put lamps next to beds and keep flashlights in the nightstands. Track lighting, recessed lighting, and lamps are easy ways to brighten up your space. Use bulbs with the highest recommended wattage for the fixture.
Accidental falls are the leading cause of broken bones, head injuries, cuts, and bruises. Reduce the risk of stumbling by providing plenty of room to move freely. Clutter can become a tripping hazard. Rearrange furniture, clear walkways (especially high traffic areas), and keep toys, bags, pet bowls, and cords off the floor. Avoid slippery floors by cleaning up spills immediately. If you have area rugs, make sure they have non-slip pad backing or tape them to the floor with double-sided tape.
To make your house more accessible, make sure you have at least one no-step entrance/exit. A ramp at the side or backdoor can be less obtrusive and less expensive than one at the front. Make doors easier to open by changing handles from knobs to levers.
If your parent uses a wheelchair or walker, you may need to widen your doorways. A 36-inch-wide door is ideal, but remodeling can be costly and complicated. Widen your existing doorways by replacing the hinges with expandable offset door hinges, which will provide a couple more inches of clearance. Doorway thresholds can be a hazard for wheelers and walkers, so look into installing ZERO thresholds.
Stairs and steps invite slips, trips, and falls. One way to avoid missteps is by adding tread. You can also color contrast the front edge of the steps by adding adhesive strips. Make sure both sides have extended handrails that are at least one-and-a-half inch in diameter to accommodate aging grips. And of course, you'll want to keep the stairwell free of clutter. If a chairlift is necessary, the stairway will need to be widened to a full four feet. Visit this article for more steps to safer stairs.
To make a bathroom wheelchair accessible, you'll need to provide a minimum 60-inch turning radius of maneuverable space. Also, the toilet can't be any closer than 18 inches from a wall or cabinet. If your toilet is close to the ground, you might want to buy a raised one to make sitting and getting up easier for your loved one. Standard ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) height toilets must have a 17"-19" floor to bowl rim height, including the seat.
Instead of a tub, opt for a no-threshold walk-in or roll-in shower that is at least four feet wide for easy access. Showerheads should be adjustable height and handheld, with easily operable controls and a hose that is at least 59 inches long.
Add a shower chair, fold-down seat, or a bench. Put non-slip mats inside of the tub or shower and non-slip rugs elsewhere on the bathroom floor. Don't drop the soap! Instead, install a wall-mounted soap and shampoo dispenser.
Install U-shaped, vertical or angle bars by the bathtub and toilet to help with balance. (Diagonal bars make it easy to slip.) While grab bars can give your bathroom an institutional vibe, there are some stylish and sturdy ones that are more aesthetically pleasing. Add back bracing to the walls to ensure the rails support 250-300 pounds. Family Handyman says that "general guidelines call for a vertical bar at the tub edge and an angled bar on the long back wall of the tub. A 24-in. grab bar positioned at a 45-degree angle will attach easily to wall studs. If you can't anchor to a stud, you can secure wood blocking between the studs. If you're lucky, you'll be able to go through a closet or storage area behind the tub so the wall patch won't have to be perfect." After installation, test your work by pulling on the bar as hard as you can.