Are you nearing retirement and thinking about purchasing a different home for your retirement years? Perhaps you’ve lived in “the family home” for a long time, and are wondering if any modifications or repairs should be made to accommodate potential mobility or cognition changes as you age. Maybe you are an adult child considering the possibility of mom or dad, or maybe both, moving in. An obvious factor to consider in the above scenarios is the presence of steps (both inside and outside the home). But there are additional less obvious details that can make a home more user-friendly for a senior or individual with physical or cognitive challenges. Some of these details can be easily remedied by the purchase of adaptive equipment, while others involve more expensive structural changes. Following are some general home safety and room-by-room details to consider.
- Indoor and outdoor steps should have sturdy handrails.
- Steps that can be potentially slippery (hardwood or painted) may benefit from having nonskid strips applied near the edges. For those who have visual impairments, the strips should be a color that contrasts with the color of the steps.
- Light switches should be located near all entrances to each room, at each end of hallways, and at the top and bottom of stairwells.
- Lighting should be bright enough throughout the home, but without glare.
- Lever handles are easier to operate than doorknobs.
- Interior doors should have locks that can be opened from either side.
- Hallways and doorways should be wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair (keep in mind the angle needed to turn a wheelchair to move through each doorway).
- The water heater should be set at 120 degrees to reduce the risk of scalding, however check the dishwasher first as some may require a water temperature of 140 degrees for optimum cleaning.
- Solid color carpeting that has a dense pile will lower fall risks. Deep pile carpeting can be more difficult to walk on, and patterned carpeting may cause optical illusions and be troublesome for those who have difficulty with depth perception.
- To lower the fall risk with hardwood floors, avoid wax or high gloss polishes and avoid the use of throw rugs.
- Room entrances should not have raised door thresholds.
- Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should be present near all sleeping areas.
- Check that cabinets and countertops are a comfortable height, and there is space to roll a wheelchair under a counter, if needed.
- Harder to reach cabinets could have a pull-out design, and lower cabinets could have drawers instead of shelves.
- A side-by-side refrigerator/freezer will be easier to use than a top-bottom model.
- Oven controls should be located on the front of the oven, and knobs or touch pad controls should be easy to understand and manage.
- A preferred stove design has a cooking surface that works by induction, which prevents the surface from getting hot, and can be installed like a countertop so that a wheelchair can roll under it.
- For electric or gas stoves, they should not be positioned under a window because the presence of curtains will increase the risk of fire.
- The sink should have a single-lever mixing faucet.
- The touch pad of a microwave should be large and easy to read, and the microwave should be in a convenient location. A microwave mounted over a stove may increase the risk of injury if both appliances are used at the same time.
- There should be one located on the main floor of the home, as well as near the bedroom (if the home is multi-level).
- Grab bars should be present or can be installed near the toilet and tub/shower.
- Check that the toilet is a comfortable height.
- It is recommended that the tub/shower has a hand-held spray unit, and a built-in seat or space to utilize a shower chair (chairs are available which extend over the side of a tub if a stall shower is not present, however you will need a curtain instead of shower doors to minimize water escaping from the shower.)
- Sinks and tub/shower controls should have lever handles, preferably single mixing ones.
- A pedestal sink may be needed if a wheelchair or regular chair will be used in front of the sink.
- Countertops and a mirror should be appropriate height and tilt if someone will be sitting during grooming.
- The size of the bathroom should be adequate for wheelchair maneuverability.
- Avoid throw rugs and bathmats. The floor should be carpeted (low pile), or matte-finished, textured tile instead of a smooth, potentially slippery surface.
- Towel racks and built in soap dishes should be secure and not located where they might be used as a grab bar.
- One should be available on the main floor of the home.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and homes meeting all or most of these considerations may be difficult to find. Home design is the key, as modifications are easier to make than physical alterations, should an individual’s health status change and the need for adaptations arise.
Karen Kaslow, RN