More Americans are choosing to “age in place.” That is, they opt to stay in their homes rather than move to alternative retirement settings.
But that often means they must modify their homes so it is not a danger to their safety and health when their physical abilities change.
A new career field has risen to address this need: the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), a program of the National Association of Home Builders (www.nahb.org). CAPS certified specialists assess homes to identify and recommend modifications to prevent injuries from falls and other risks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one third of Americans age 65 and over fall each year. The CDC adds that environmental factors lead to about half of all falls that occur at home. These include slipping and tripping hazards, poor lighting, or lack of needed modifications, such as bathroom grab bars, handicapped showers, stair railings and ramps. (See the CDC’s “Check for Safety: A Home Fall Prevention Checklist for Older Adults” brochure at http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/fallsmaterial.htm.)
Home modifications help seniors maintain quality of life because they prevent injuries and loss of independence from early admission to an assisted living or long-term care facility.
Following are examples of commonly-recommended modifications:
Install grab bars for toilets and tubs and install a walk-in tub and/or tub seat
Remove unnecessary throw rugs and fasten down rugs or floor runners to prevent slipping
Move furniture to create clear walking paths
Keep objects off the floor and coil or secure cords to the wall to prevent tripping
Replace knobs with lever door handles
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 often-used items to lower cabinets to avoid the need for step stools
Repair or replace loose handrails and install adequate lighting in stairways
Install an elevator or chair lift
Install an elevated dishwasher or one with drawers for easy access
Replace old stoves with induction cook tops to help prevent burns
Replace ceramic tile floors with hardwood or vinyl for safe standing
Shedding Light on Home Modification
When modifying a home for a senior don’t forget the importance of good lighting. Seniors need two to three times as much light to see as well as younger people.
Good lighting—in the form of natural light—provides seniors advantages besides safety:
Sunlight produces a good dose of Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb more calcium to strengthen teeth and bones. Choose window treatments that allow in sunlight, without glare, to enhance the health of seniors, many of whom get outside less than they used to.
Daylight also uplifts psychological health. It lessens the energy-zapping effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and other forms of depression.