Home Improvement: Upgrades and Home Renovations for Improved Senior Safety
If you have an elderly loved one who wants to age in place, it’s important to consider upgrades and home renovations for improved senior safety.
A recent survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the AARP Public Policy Institute found that 90% of people aged 65 and older say they want to stay in their home for as long as possible.
When seniors are able to live in a home and community they’re familiar with, it provides a sense of comfort and safety. In addition, aging at home preserves independence, allows for improved health outcomes, and lowers the risk of stress and depression, two factors associated with cognitive decline.
In order to age in place, your senior needs an accommodative living space. Because the risk of slip-and-falls increases with age, it’s important to make modifications that improve mobility while eliminating any potential hazards.
Home renovations are an investment upfront, but in the grand scheme of things, these changes are often more affordable than long-term care at a nursing home or assisted living facility.
In this blog, we’ll look at several senior-friendly upgrades. Specifically, we’ll focus on five areas of the home, including:
Upgrades and renovations for the bathroom
The bathroom is one of the most high-traffic areas in the home, but it presents significant risks for the elderly. Common flooring materials like stone and linoleum are especially slippery, the areas around the sink and shower can collect water, and most restrooms are small, making it difficult to move around. No wonder the National Institute on Aging (NIA) says 80% of falls and related injuries occur in the bathroom.
Fortunately, there are a variety of affordable upgrades that can significantly lower the risk of an accident.
Flooring. If you don’t want to replace the entire floor, consider laying down no-slip mats or thick rugs that provide a soft, supportive foundation. Not only will this provide padding in the event of a fall, it can protect your knees if you need to help your loved one bathe.
Shower and bath. Many seniors experience vertigo and other balance issues that can make it difficult to stand. To make bathing easier, install a shower bench or chair. Replace the traditional shower head with a sprayer attachment so your loved one can rinse off in any position.
Store shampoos, soaps, and other bath products in a caddy that’s easily accessible. If your budget allows, consider a step-through tub or curbless shower. Both of these models remove significant trip hazards, providing a safer, more accessible experience.
Toilet. If your loved one uses a walker or wheelchair, sitting down on the toilet can be a challenge. To lower the risk of a fall or fracture, consider a comfort-height toilet or padded toilet seat. You might also want to install grab bars on either side of the toilet. Just make sure they’re low enough to make a difference. A person with weak legs will need to push up instead of pull.
Upgrades and renovations for the kitchen
Many seniors enjoy cooking and baking well into their golden years, but chronic joint pain, vision loss, and limited mobility can make it difficult to reach the ingredients or tools necessary to prepare a meal.
To make the kitchen more inviting, transfer everyday items like silverware, glasses, pots, and pans into cabinets that are between waist and shoulder height. That way your loved one doesn’t have to bend down or reach up.
You might also want to install:
Lazy susan trays
Large handles instead of cabinet knobs
These accessories can reduce the risk of muscle strains, back pain, and stiff joints while allowing your loved one a sense of independence.
If your senior has Alzheimer’s or dementia, you’ll need to take a different approach. To prevent an accident or injury, lock up all cleaning products, spices, and alcohol, as well as any candles, matches, or other potentially hazardous materials. In addition, put safety knobs on the stove and unplug or disconnect the garbage disposal.
Upgrades and renovations for the bedroom
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that people aged 65 and older get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. Restful, rejuvenating sleep offers a variety of benefits, including improved mood and cognitive function, a lower risk of inflammation and diseases, and a healthy metabolism. Consider these upgrades for the bedroom:
Adjustable bed. If your loved one has arthritis or another medical condition that affects their joints and mobility, they might benefit from an adjustable bed. These high-tech pieces of furniture make it easy to raise or lower your head and feet. Some even come with built-in massage functions, heating or cooling technology, and controls that adjust the mattresses’ firmness.
Bedding and accessories. Some people have a tendency to jerk or kick in their sleep. These movements can cause your senior to roll out of bed, resulting in a fracture or serious bruising. Installing bed rails provides an extra layer of protection and peace of mind.
In terms of bedding, buy sheets, blankets, and comforters that don’t run to the floor. The longer the fabric, the greater the risk of getting tangled up, tripping, and falling. If your loved one is incontinent, install a mattress protector. A plastic protector wicks away moisture and makes cleanup in the event of an accident easy and hassle-free.
Emergencies can happen at any time. Make sure the bedroom has at least one phone that’s easy to access and preferably cordless. For additional convenience, invest in a voice-activated phone dialer. That way, if your loved one falls and can’t get up, they can contact emergency services.
Blinds and lighting. Closing the blinds can be a chore, especially if you’re living with arthritis. To prevent flare-ups and inflammation, install automated blinds or window coverings that go down with the push of a button. If your loved one regularly uses the bathroom at night, install a motion-activated light under the bed. It’s a cost-effective way to prevent a fall.
Hallways, doorways, stairways
Many seniors use wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility devices. Unfortunately, the majority of hallways and doorways aren’t wide enough to accommodate them. You can hire a licensed contractor to remodel the entries and exits of your home, or you can install offset hinges, allowing for more access to the doorway.
To encourage easy mobility, clean all hallways and rooms of clutter. Keep cords wrapped up and out of the way and make sure the flooring is soft, easy to clean, and slip-resistant. If you’re unable to replace or update the flooring, put down no-slip mats in high traffic areas. You might also want to consider getting rid of excess furniture, rugs, or bedding to provide a more open and accessible living space.
Stairways are especially risky for seniors. If possible, remodel your home so everything is accessible on the main floor. If that’s not an option, consider installing a chairlift for easy trips up-and-down.
After the age of 60, your eyes need three times more light than they did when you were 20. In addition, you become more sensitive to glare, your cornea and lens become cloudy, and your pupils shrink, letting less light in.
Routine eye exams, prescription eyewear, and cataract surgery can help offset some of these problems, but only in combination with adequate lighting. Here are a few tips for preventing falls and other accidents:
Open up curtains and blinds during the day to let sunlight in
Install lighting fixtures at the top and bottom of stairways, entry points, and exits
Paint the walls a lighter color; dark paint absorbs light, making it difficult to see
Cover all lamps and lighting fixtures with glare-free shades or covers
Cover up or take down shiny objects like mirrors, crystals, or framed art that can increase glare
If your senior has poor vision, you might also want to consider installing:
Lighted cover plates and outlets
These are just a few of the upgrades and home renovations you can make for improved senior safety. Before getting to work, take the time to sit down and consider your budget and your senior’s individual needs. These two factors can help determine the renovations that are right for your loved one and family.
Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.