Once upon a time, your parents had to “child-proof” their home to make it safer for you. Now, if you’re helping to take care of a parent—whether they’re in their own home or yours—it may be time to look at making it safer for them to age-in-place.
Whether you’re working with a professional or working on your own, you can help make their home much safer and more accessible for a wheelchair or walker. What’s more, you can help them reduce the risk of falls—which happens to 1 in 3 older adults every year in the U.S. Here are some of the things you should be aware of:
Working with a professional
You may have great experience in home remodeling and have some wonderful ideas. A home assessment by an by an occupational therapist, physical therapist, geriatric care manager or other certified aging-in-place specialists, however, can put fresh eyes on your parent’s living space to make it easier and safer for them to navigate.
AARP, in collaboration with The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), has also developed Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS). CAPS designees are often remodelers, but designers, architects, occupational therapists (OT), and others may have this designation. They can:
- Recommend updates that will help your parent live independently in his or her own home
- Work with an occupational therapist to develop a home modification or build a plan based on the safety and functional needs of an individual or household
- Collaborate with a licensed contractor or interior designer about building and design strategies and techniques for creating attractive, barrier-free living spaces
- Provide information about building codes and standards, useful products and resources, and the costs and time required for common remodeling projects
To find a CAPS remodeler or design-build professional, call the NAHB at 800-368-5242 or visit nahb.org, search for “Find a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist” and look for a professional in your area with the CAPS designation. They are generally paid by the hour or receive a flat fee per visit or project.
To find an OT in your area, check with your parent’s physician, health insurance provider or local hospital. They are also generally paid a flat fee per visit and their services may be covered by health insurance.
Working on your own
First, eliminate common fall hazards
According to the National Council on Aging statistics, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall every 11 seconds—making them the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 and older. Many of these are preventable by being more aware of such things as:
- Waxed floors. They may look nice, but they’re a hip fracture waiting to happen.
- Loose floor rugs. They can easily slip underfoot or pose a trip hazard. Either remove them or make sure edges are secure and/or slip resistant.
- Changes in medication. While you may not be able to change the medication a parent is on, you can be more aware of what they’re on and its potential side effects. Some can increase the risk of dizziness, which increases the risk of falls.
- Low drawer storage. Bending over (particularly to pick something up) could easily cause someone to lose their balance and fall. By moving frequently used items to levels where your parent doesn’t have to bend over to retrieve it can help eliminate that risk.
- More than 80,000 people a year are sent to the hospital for falls due to pets. While it may not be possible to get rid of a pet. If a dog has a tendency to bolt on a walk and suddenly jerk their lead or likes to jump up your parent, it might be time to evaluate the situation.
- Sometimes, there’s just too much furniture to allow careful navigation between rooms. If your parent has to turn sideways to get around furniture or step over electrical cords, it’s easy for them to trip and fall.
Next, make easy, inexpensive fixes
As we age, eyesight and balance become an issue. If both are impaired, you have a dangerous situation. You lessen the chances of a fall if you:
- Add a raised toilet and grab bars.
- Add additional lighting in dark hallways, closets, stairwells, and pantries.
- Adjust the thermostat on the water heater so it stays at or under 120 degrees.
- Convert to lever-handle faucets to make water flow and temperature easier for arthritic hands to operate.
- Install nonskid treads on steps.
- Install outdoor motion sensor lights.
- Install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in the kitchen and bedrooms.
- Keep steps and stairwells clear.
- Obtain an emergency response system such as a pendant/bracelet. The Senior List and Consumer Reports websites offer a comparison of the pros and cons.
- Put railings along the walls.
- Remove locks from bedroom and bathroom doors so you can get in quickly, should your parent fall.
- Remove wheels on chairs. Office-like task chairs at a computer on a hard, flat surface can be particularly dangerous.
- Repair loose carpeting or raised areas of flooring.
- Replace wall-mount shower heads with handheld showerheads on a hose.
- Swap out their recliner for one that automatically raises and lowers.
- Switch out standard doorknobs for lever handles.
- Take advantage of an electronic monitoring program such as such as GrandCare, MyTruSense, SilverLink, and Wellness.
- Use treads on the tub or shower floor along with rubber-backed bathmats.
Then look at making the home more accessible
Once you have the easy fixes out of the way, you can look at actually modifying the home to make it more accessible and user-friendly. You might consider:
- A frameless walk-in shower with a sloped floor instead of a step-over threshold
- A shower chair
- A stair-climber
- Controls and switches that are reachable from a wheelchair or bed
- offset door hinges to make room for a wheelchair, walker or two people walking side by side
- Raised toilet seats
- Textured non-slip strips in the bathtub and shower to lessen the chance of a fall
- Wide doorways and halls
- Zero-threshold entryways
These are just a few of the many modifications you can consider making to your parent’s home. Age In Place offers quite a few more. Have a parent with dementia? Both AARP and the Alzheimer’s Association have a number of suggestions on their websites.
Can’t afford major modifications?
While making changes to stairs, bedrooms and/or bathrooms can certainly assist your parent and professionals would be a great help, they could also be too pricey for yours or your parent’s budget. Fortunately, financial assistance may be available through:
- Area Agencies on Aging distributes modification and repair funds through the Older Americans Act. To contact your local AAA, reach out to the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or https://eldercare.acl.gov.
- Rebuilding Together, Inc., a national volunteer organization, is able to assist some low-income seniors through its local affiliates. Visit http://rebuildingtogether.orgto learn more.
- The U.S. Department of Energy’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)and Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) also offers assistance to seniors through local energy and social service departments You can also search for state-specific tax credits, rebates, and savings at http://energy.gov/savings.
Your parents may love their home and wish to remain there to age-in-place. There are ways you can help them do that as you both journey along the gray mile. You just have to get a plan in place—and help protect them as they once protected you.