Keep elderly loved ones safe with these home-improvement tips

Posted by Tom Kalinski Founder RE/MAX of Boulder on Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 at 1:24pm.

Most people understand what “baby-proofing” a home is, but “elder-proofing?” 

Just as not every home is suited for babies and toddlers, neither are they necessarily equipped for seniors who are living longer.

But the longer seniors reside in homes – whether their own or their adult children’s – that aren’t suited to their particular safety requirements, the greater their risk of suffering a personal injury, according to Yahoo! Homes.

The practice of “elder-proofing” a home may require extensive remodeling in some cases, but homeowners can do a number of things with just a toolbox, a few smart ideas and a weekend.

Here are seven handy tips Yahoo! Homes suggests to “elder-proof” a home:

Keep the nightlights on – 
Eyesight tends to deteriorate with age, so a home with dark shadows and gloomy hallways can be hazardous to a senior’s health. If the problem exists during the day as well as at night, install low-voltage track or recessed lighting that can remain on. Nightlights can also illuminate the path from the bedroom to the bathroom: just connect them to outlets with timers so they turn on at sunset, or consider a motion-activated nightlight that turns on when someone moves.

Clear the floor – About 33 percent of adults over 65 take a fall each year, according the Centers for Disease Control. One of the biggest culprits is throw rugs, which bunch up and become trip hazards. Avoid the two-sided tape that tacks them down and throw rugs away, instead. Make sure tile or vinyl floors are not cleaned with any wax products that make them slippery, as well.

Easy access – Homes built in the 1970s and ‘80s often had “sunken” living and family rooms accessible one or two steps down from the main floor level, which is a fall and broken hip waiting to happen for seniors. Eliminate the sunken floor or add a handrail, even if there are only one or two steps.

Stairs also present a challenge for seniors living in two-story homes, and many may limit their living quarters to the downstairs rather than try negotiating the stairs. Stair lifts, in which a person sits and rides up and down, are effective although they can be pricey ($8,000 to $15,000).

The wheelchair bound who need a ramp to get into their home may need a vertical platform lift if their property isn’t big enough for a ramp.

“These are like little elevators and they use a very small footprint,” Beth Kofsky of Home Assistive Technology in Miami tells Yahoo! Homes. “If someone is in a mobile home that sits 2 feet off the ground, it’s very easy to roll onto it, rise up to the door level and go. Price-wise, they’re around $4,000, which may compare very favorably to the cost of building a ramp outside your home.”

Hold on – Bathroom grab bars are a requirement for a mobility-challenged person. “Have the senior show you how he or she moves around in the bathroom: do they favor one side when they stand up or step into the shower?” says Ronnie Molles of Molles Life Services in Evanston, Ill.

A variety of grab bars are available, including some high-end products that don’t necessarily look like grab bars. Remember to follow directions carefully when installing, as they generally have to be attached to wall studs in order to be effective.

Get the water flowing – Hands that have depleted strength because of arthritis and other health issues may not turn faucet and shower handle knobs easily. Depending on the space around the faucet, levers can replace knobs. Also check the water heater to make sure the temperature is no higher than 120 degrees, as higher temperatures and slower reflexes could result in a nasty burn when bathing.

Staying mobile – Life gets difficult for someone who has to move around in a wheelchair or scooter. “Most homes aren’t built with wheelchairs in mind,” Lyn Gilbert a contractor and Certified Aging in Place Specialist based in Winter Park, Fla., tells Yahoo! Homes. “It takes some planning to make a home really work for someone confined to a wheelchair.”

Interior doorways as narrow as 24 inches don’t work when with a 32-inch-wide wheelchair. A contractor can install new frames that will widen bathroom and bedroom doorways. If the doorway is just slightly too small, a swing-away hinge, which pulls the door away and helps open more space, could help.

Curb Appeal – It's preferable as well as possible not to advertise that someone with limited mobility lives inside of a home. “The outdoor ramps I design don't look like wheelchair ramps, they look they're part of the home,” says Gilbert. “That’s important not just for safety but for home resale value.”

Other ways to make the home senior-friendly and still attractive include: making sure the address is clear and visible, that the porch lighting is clear, and a key lock box is mounted and stocked to let emergency staff or family get access inside.

“If you have a decorative table or two near the front door, make sure it’s secured to the wall so that the person can steady themselves before walking in if they need to,” Gilbert advises.

Source: Yahoo! Homes

Tom Kalinski 
Owner and Founder
RE/MAX of Boulder
303-441-5620
tomkalinski33@gmail.com

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