Home should be a safe haven. So when your elderly family member moves in, you may need to make some changes to ensure the home is safe for them too.
According to a recent Harvard Housing study, 99 percent of U.S. homes are not ready for aging in place. So if you need to retrofit your home so it can accommodate multi-generational living, start with a home safety check.
Home Safety Check
By inspecting your home for safety hazards, you’ll know exactly what changes you need to make. Home Instead offers a comprehensive home safety checklist, but here are a few things to look for.
Are electrical cords crossing pathways?
Are throw rugs creating a trip hazard?
Is the flooring uneven?
Do you have a pet that could trip your loved one?
Is the light bright enough?
Is there enough lighting at night?
Is the furniture sturdy?
Is the bed too high or too low?
Is furniture obstructing pathways?
Are there grab bars near the toilet and in the bathtub or shower?
Is the bathtub too high?
Photo courtesy of Bonnie J. Lewis Design
Once you’ve checked the safety of your home, you can make some changes that’ll make life easier and safer for your aging loved one.
A fall can be a lot harder for older adults to recover from, both physically and financially. Pathways need to be open and easy to navigate. Get rid of trip hazards by removing throw rugs and securely taping down area rugs. Use bright orange tape to mark a change in floor type that may create a risk, such as from carpet to wood. Move electrical cords that are crossing walkways, remove clutter, and make sure your pets are in a secure location that won’t trip up your loved one.
Better lighting helps with fading vision. Improve your overall lighting by using higher wattage bulbs. In the kitchen, brighten up countertops by adding rope lighting or under cabinet lights. Light up hallways with sensor lights, which will make late-night bathroom trips much safer.
If you have unsteady or extremely soft chairs or sofas, replace them with furniture that will be easier to get up from. When a chair has sturdy arms, the transition from sitting to standing is much less difficult.
In the bathroom, small improvements can make a big difference. Grab bars are easy to install and can prevent a fall. If your bathtub is too high, don’t worry; you don’t have to replace it. Instead, add a transfer bench that’ll allow your loved one to safely get in and out of the tub.
Hire A Specialist
If these changes seem overwhelming, or you’re worried your house will seem too sterile, or you just don’t want to do it yourself, you can hire a specialist to design a living space that will be beautiful, safe, and accessible for everyone living in it. Designers around the country specialize in creating these spaces for seniors. With their expertise, you can get peace of mind knowing that all the necessary changes were done the first time around, giving you a functional and beautiful space for years to come.
Bonnie J. Lewis, of Bonnie J. Lewis Design, specializes in remodel design which prepares homes to prevent falls and to support adults all the way through retirement. As a certified aging-in-place specialist, Bonnie and her team help retrofit homes so that multi-generational families can live comfortably because, as she notes, design matters for longevity.
"Some remodeling is usually necessary to remove hidden hazards and make the home easier to maneuver for adults over 60," she explains. "A qualified design professional will create a home environment that prevents falls and eliminates obstacles that rob adults of their independence or prevent them from staying in their home beyond active adult years."
Her most requested designs are updating or remodeling bathrooms. "This is important because bathrooms are the most dangerous room in the house, for anyone," Bonnie says. "In a nutshell, bathrooms that are designed for well aging work for all generations, but standard bathrooms are not safe and do not work well (or at all) for older adults. There’s no downside to it, so why not?"
Bonnie adds, the beauty of having an aging-in-place expert do the designs for you is that they'll be "as beautiful they are functional, with inconspicuous safety features, and they usually increase the property value."
Whether you choose to make the updates yourself or have them done by a professional, rest easier knowing your home is a safe place for your whole family.