It’s amazing how life can change in an instant. In those first few moments after the news breaks, a million visions of how you imagined the future flash before you. For a while, life gets put on hold – there are too many things to take care of right now to worry about next week. But eventually, you find yourself needing to figure out how to bring your loved one back home – and how to make that home safe for a loved one with mobility issues and comfortable for you.
Falls are the leading cause of injury death among adults over 65. Encouraging your loved one to exercise to improve mobility and strength can help prevent falls, but it’s still key to re-organize your home with safety in mind. A visiting nurse or other professional can conduct a home safety check and suggest adaptive technology for your specific needs. Here’s an overview of what you can do right now and what you can do for a long-term solution.
A bright, welcoming space
Make sure there’s proper lighting in each area of your home. Installing brighter bulbs or adding more lamps can go a long way toward preventing falls.
- Install motion-sensor light switches or night lights in hallways to make sure no one is walking around in the dark. It’s especially important to add these to stairways.
- Install wireless electronic switches, switch extensions, or the Clapper to make it easy to turn lights on and off from bed or the couch. Some lamps and fans now come with remote controls.
- Make sure the porches and walkway to the garage or street have lighting.
- Make sure window shades and blinds are easy to open and close. You can add a draw rod if it’s not possible to add a remote.
Clear, open spaces
- Consider putting unused items and furniture into storage or donating them to open spaces and make them easier to navigate.
- Clean up clutter, like cords on the floor or anything else someone might trip over.
- Install non-slip mats under your rugs and remove loose throw rugs. Rug tape can be a huge help.
- Even well trained pets can occasionally be dangerous for people who aren’t steady on their feet. Try to keep pets out of areas when they might accidentally knock someone over or trip them.
- Adjust the height of your loved one’s bed so their feet touch the floor when they sit on the edge of the bed.
- If their bedroom is on the second floor, try to repurpose another room as their bedroom to eliminate the need to climb stairs.
- Utilize bedroom storage that’s easy to reach.
A functional kitchen
- Add a kitchen cart to offer counter space at the right height.
- Create a prep station with seating.
- Get an oven range with front burner controls to eliminate the need to reach across a hot stove.
A comfortable bathroom
The bathroom can be a treacherous place for people with mobility issues.
- Add non-stick mats to the shower and bathroom floor.
- Add a shower bench and toilet seat riser.
- If the bathroom is on a different floor than their bedroom, a commode chair is a good short-term solution.
- If your loved one wears makeup and does their hair, consider creating a dressing area where they can sit while they get ready.
- Install an extra-high toilet.
- Replace your current tub with a curbless shower or walk-in tub.
- Install grab bars around the toilet and tub. Your home doesn’t have to look like a public bathroom – there are attractive options out there.
- Create a landing strip at the entry way, to reduce the distance anyone will be carrying items like keys, sunglasses, or packages.
- Organizing storage areas will eliminate the need to search for items and keeps people safe from falling objects. Keep things they use often within reach without bending down or reaching up.
- Do a deep-clean. Make sure there’s no mold, rodents, insects, or other issues that could exacerbate health issues for you and your family.
- You can adjust the heights of many tables with a quick trim or by using bed risers.
- Build a handicap ramp if your front door has steps. You can get a temporary ramp for short-term disabilities or to use while you come up with a long-term solution. A portable ramp is actually a pretty good investment, since you can use it as a short-term solution at your home and then it comes in handy quite often when going out.
- If anyone uses a wheelchair, make sure more than one exit is wheelchair-accessible in case of an emergency.
- Replace doorknobs with levers and remove raised door thresholds. Pocket doors and barn doors are easier to pass through than doors that require a wide swing radius.
- Make sure light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other controls are within reach.
- Ensure that all railings are secure and consider installing handrails on both sides of staircases. There are non-skid strips available for stairways.
- Make sure any shelves or bookcases are stable in case someone grabs onto them for balance.
- If your home is on two floors, you may opt to install a chair lift or elevator.
- Widen narrow doorways.
- Check that your smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and other safety items are working.
- If you live in an area where natural disasters are possible, find out if help is available in the case of evacuation.
Make it yours
Make your adjusted home comfortable! You don’t want your home to feel like an institution. Be sure to re-decorate so that you and your loved ones feel at home in the new space.
- Plants and family photos can go a long way to making a space feel like it’s yours again.
- If at all possible, make sure you and your loved one each have a little space to yourselves. We all need time to ourselves.
- Removing rugs can really change the feel of a space. It’s a little controversial, but many decorators love painted floors, even using bold patterns.
The necessary adjustments may seem daunting, but having a home that’s been adapted for accessibility is a huge asset. There are a number of programs available that provide financial assistance for home modifications, including Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, HUD (programs differ by state), and a number of non-profits. If you don’t own your home, your landlord may be required to modify your home to fit your needs.
Moving for accessibility
If your home requires too many adjustments, you may need to consider moving. Split-level homes become treacherous to those with mobility issues. Remodeling can be costly and time consuming – you likely won’t have time to manage a renovation while also serving as a caregiver. Depending on the situation, you may not even have the option of staying in your home while work is underway. Finding a new home that fits your current and future needs may be a better choice.
Universal design is a term for homes that have been created for the majority of people, not just the average. Homes that incorporate handicap accessibility are more convenient for everyone.
- Homes have elevator access, ramps, or single-floor designs, eliminating the need for stairs.
- Smart layouts utilize space well while keeping things in reach for everyone. The floorplan takes use into consideration, so spaces have good ‘flow’. Homes typically feature variable-height counters, knee-space under sinks, wide hallways, pocket doors, and electrical outlets raised off the floor.
- Accessible features are integrated into the design, such as grab bars styled as chair rail, fully extending drawers, windows that open easily, non-slip surfaces, and keyless entry.
Creating an accessible home isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it to create a space that’s comfortable and beautiful so you, too, can benefit from a home that will allow you to age in place.