Low-Cost Modifications that Can Help Seniors Stay in Their Homes

According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one-third of all Americans over 65 are injured in falls. When my much-loved uncle became one of them, tripping in a parking lot and breaking his hip, my family had to scramble to make modifications that would allow him to remain in his home.

Looking back, I realize how lucky we were. My then 86-year-old uncle was alert and otherwise healthy. He quickly went from a wheel chair to a walker to using a cane. He lived in a ranch-style home, so there were no stairs to contend with. The lay-out of my uncle’s house was spacious, giving him ample room to maneuver around the furniture.

However, we still had to accommodate his now restricted mobility. We removed all area rugs that might cause him to trip. We installed a seat in the shower so he wouldn’t have to stand and added a handheld shower head and grab bar. We placed an elevated toilet seat with railings over the regular seat to make getting up and down safer and more comfortable. We purchased several “reachers,” grabbing devices on long handles that allowed my uncle to pick things up without bending over, and placed them in the rooms where he spent the most time. We installed photosensitive night lights in the bathroom and in the rooms that led from my uncle’s bedroom to the kitchen. Our modifications were all relatively inexpensive, but most important, they assured us that he could live safely in the comfort of his home.

Lesson Learned
If there was any silver lining in my uncle’s fall, it was that it made me and my husband aware of the importance of making some home modifications before we needed them and to do them in conjunction with routine home improvements and repairs.

To accomplish this, Agingcare.com recommends a thorough room-by-room assessment, taking into consideration current and future needs. Depending on the situation, and in addition to the changes we made for my uncle, Agingcare.com suggests considering incorporating these low-cost measures into home improvement projects:

  • Install hand rails on both sides of indoor and outdoor steps.
  • Install C- or D-shaped handles on all drawers and cabinet doors for easy grasping.
  • Provide better illumination with brighter light bulbs that don’t produce excessive glare.
  • Ensure floors are dull rather than high-gloss or waxed to reduce the risk of slipping.
  • Make sure handrails and grab bars are strong enough to support the full weight of a falling person.
  • Place a bench near entrances for resting or placing packages.
  • Install closet lights and adjustable, pull-down rods and shelves for easy access.
  • Install a phone in the bathroom.
  • Make sure all faucet handles are clearly marked for hot and cold water.
  • Install an anti-scald valve in the shower.

Clearly, major modifications, such as wheelchair ramps, widened doorways, adapted kitchens, and bathroom renovations are costly. To help cover some of these costs, funds from Title III and Title V of the Older Americans Act may be available.

In addition, to guide you as you assess the potential hazards in your home, the CDC offers a checklist with additional recommendations for modifications.

Planning Can Make a Difference
No one likes to contemplate being unable to carry out the day-to-day activities that let us remain in our homes as we grow old. However, taking advance steps to eliminate potential hazards now can make a big difference in our ability to live out our lives where we choose despite inevitable physical limitations.

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