10 Smart Ways to Make a Home Safer for Your Aging Parents
Just under six percent of American households are multi-generational, with three or more generations living together under one roof. And as the U.S. population ages (there are almost 50 million people aged 65 and over in this country), that number will grow. If you're dealing with an aging parent, keeping them in their home or moving them into your own can be the most convenient way to go. But you may need to make some changes for safety's sake.
Light it up
Updating the lighting in your home is one very simple way to make it safer and more comfortable for your aging parent. Add nightlights in the bedroom, bathroom, and hallways for safety. Then make sure there is appropriate, bright task lighting wherever your parent needs it: near her reading chair, for example, or in the kitchen. And if possible (you may have to bring in an electrician), make sure controls for the lights, thermostat, and so on are easy to reach and use. (Find 10 bright ideas for saving on lighting.)
Ideally, you would have a step-free entry into your shower stall and a bench inside for seating. “We recently built a custom shower for a client, and the biggest reason for doing it was to add a built-in bench,” says Nate Bruen, owner of Handyman Connection in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. If that kind of renovation isn’t in the cards, a free-standing shower seat is a budget-friendly option. Grab bars are essential when caring for aging parents, especially if they will need to step up into the shower or bathtub.
Grab bars are also a must near the toilet, as aging legs and knees may have difficulty sitting down and standing up from the seat. Adding a raised toilet seat can also be helpful. Another senior-friendly option is a two-level vanity, with a lower portion for use when seated. Finally, reversing the hinges on the door so it opens out, instead of in, gives everyone in your family more space to move around in a bathroom’s smaller footprint. Keep the bathroom free of clutter, too.
Bruen says he has been installing more touchless faucets for his customers. These allow aging parents to turn on the water with a wave or tap, instead of having to grip a faucet handle. And for about $50, you can retrofit almost any toilet to flush with the wave of a hand, too. Not only is this more sanitary, it means older family members don’t have to lean over to flush the toilet manually.
Wider halls and doors
Especially if you’re dealing with aging parents who use wheelchairs, you will need doorways that are at least 32- inches wide (34 inches is even better) and hallways measuring 42-inches wide or wider. Remember that even if you are not facing mobility issues now, you might in the future, so being prepared is helpful. Doorway thresholds can be a tripping hazard, so eliminate those where possible. And for aging parents who do have mobility challenges, make sure you know how to prevent and treat bed sores.
If you have area rugs, get rid of them if possible; otherwise, be sure edges are very secure so no one trips on them. (These are the warning signs your elderly parent should stop living alone.) Rearrange furniture so that high-traffic areas are clear and there’s plenty of room to move freely. And how about adding some easy-care plants: They’ll detox your home and add cheer at the same time.
If your home’s interior doors have doorknobs, consider swapping them out for levers, which are easier for aging parents to operate. Got a sliding glass door? It may be difficult for an elderly person to open and close due to its weight. Bruen says he fixes this by replacing old sliding doors with newer models, which are made with better, lighter-weight materials.
Will you need to add a ramp to help your aging parent enter and exit your home? That depends on your parent’s needs and your home’s characteristics. The AARP suggests that if possible, you regrade your home’s exterior to create a step-free entry when caring for aging parents. This might include a solution like a wraparound deck instead of just a ramp. You can also get a rubber threshold ramp that eases the transition from outdoors to in.
Cut out climbing
If at all possible, create living spaces for your aging parent that are all on a single level, so Mom or Dad does not have to climb any stairs. This might mean converting or adding sleeping and bathroom space on your first floor. A stair lift might also be an option, but make sure your relatives feel comfortable with it first. It is not worth the expense and hassle of installation if they are afraid to use it.