A recent AARP survey of baby boomers found almost 90 percent of respondents expressed the desire to stay at home as long as possible. And many are turning that desire into reality by taking advantage of home and community-based services and assistive technologies.
The flip side of staying at home is demonstrated by a survey from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), reporting one out of three older adults (age 65 years or older) falls each year.
What are some home design changes that can make living – and aging – at home safer, healthier and happier?
One of the first places to start is the doorway – the portal that connects homeowners to the rest of the world. The doorway welcomes guests, and allows residents to bring in groceries, head out to appointments, enjoy exercise and fresh air, and interact with the community. Because of its importance, the entryway should be barrier free and able to accommodate a wheelchair or walker.
With a no-step entry, the walkway leading from the sidewalk or driveway will have a flush entrance with little to no slope. If this is not possible, a ramp can create access in and out.
Inside, any thresholds between rooms can also create a tripping hazard, and should be eliminated, if possible, especially in the bathroom. A curb-less shower, also referred to as a walk-in or roll-in shower, is a shower stall designed to improve accessibility and safety when showering. (Typical shower stalls have curbs that may range between 14 to 16 inches high and can impede wheelchairs or walkers). Curb-less showers remove this lip and make the floor of the shower flush with the bathroom floor. Other shower amenities that can help include a fold-down seat, slip resistant flooring and grab bars.
A height-adjustable toilet and sink provides flexible adaptation for individual needs. Faucets can be made easy to operate by replacing a turn-handle with a lever. Anti-scaling and pressure-balanced controls can also prevent injury.
Most people spend a good portion of the day in the kitchen, preparing food, eating or just relaxing. There are ways to modify a kitchen to make it more user-friendly for any of these activities. Rigid floor surfaces can be difficult or even painful to stand on for long periods of time. Softer flooring, such as vinyl, or cork is easier on the legs and back. And if new flooring is not in the cards, gel mats can ease the stress on tired joints. A side-swing or wall oven eliminates the need to squat or bend over to remove hot dishes from the oven. A sink with at least one shallow basin makes clean-up easier and may eliminate the need for stooping or bending. Varied height counters and open shelving allows easy access to frequently used items and small appliances.
Good lighting is important in every room, and especially in the kitchen. It helps uplift mood, eases eye strain, and improves accuracy when measuring or cutting. To allow food prep from a sitting position, a few of the lower kitchen cabinets can be removed. Coffeemaker, oven, stove, and other kitchen devices are helpful but can be dangerous if left on too long. And automatic shut-off device on a coffeemaker, oven, stove or other appliance can provide peace of mind and an extra measure of safety.
Another way to reduce accidents in and outside the home is adequate lighting throughout. Outdoor areas, stairways, kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom are just a few examples where proper lighting is critical. Rocker or touch-type light switches work best because they can be turned on and off with a touch, even and elbow if hands are full.