Valerie Takahashi
Courtesy: Ho‘okele Healthy Living

More Americans are choosing to “age in place,” meaning they are opting to stay in their own home rather than move into alternative retirement settings. But that decision often means that they must modify their existing home and adapt their living spaces so that they can continue to live independently and safely when their physical abilities change. A house that was perfectly suitable for a senior at age 55, for example, may have too many stairs or slippery surfaces for a person who is 70 or 80. The main benefit of making home modifications is that they help seniors maintain a quality of life and prevent accidents from occurring in their home.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans age 65 and over fall every year. Environmental factors lead to about half of all falls that occur at home, according to the CDC. In addition to tripping hazards and poor lighting, these factors include a lack of needed home modifications, such as bathroom grab bars, handicap showers, stair railings and ramps. A checklist on the CDC’s website can help you ensure that the home of the elder you know is as safe as possible.

Homeowners themselves can make some simple modifications that will allow seniors to live safely, comfortably and independently in their own homes. The following are examples of commonly recommended modifications:

  • • Install grab bars for toilets and tubs, and install a walk-in tub and/or shower seat for bathing;
  • Add non-slip surfaces to tubs and shower floors;
  • Replace faucets with round knobs to ones with lever-type handles;
  • Make sure that exterior walkways and driveways, rooms and interior hallways are well-lit and free of obstructions, debris and other clutter;
  • Move furniture to create clear walking paths;
  • Keep objects off the floor and coil or secure electrical cords to the wall to prevent tripping;
  • Remove unnecessary throw rugs and fasten down rugs or floor runners to prevent slipping;
  • Apply non-slip tape on uncarpeted indoor and outdoor steps;
  • Replace standard light switches with rocker-style switches;
  • Increase the width of doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs and, where possible, lower sinks and countertops;
  • Move frequently used items to lower cabinets to avoid the need for stepping stools;
  • Switch round doorknobs to lever handles;
  • Replace ceramic tile floors with hardwood or vinyl for safe standing.

Most seniors live in homes that are more than 20 years old. Homeowners can start planning to incorporate home modifications in their homes gradually. Rather than trying to quickly renovate a home to accommodate needs as they arise, homeowners can take a proactive approach with needed home maintenance and repairs. The advantage is that as the home needs repair, the modification elements can be incorporated into the existing repair job without a significant increase in cost.

Valerie Takahashi is director of business development for Ho‘okele Care at Home.


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