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Aging in place: Safety at home

Many people want to remain in their homes as they age, and there are an increasing number of resources and services to aid those who wish to “age in place.” For improved safety, you will likely want to do home modifications. Some modifications are easy; others take more serious renovations.

About four out of five older people own their homes. To continue to live safely in them, many need modifications. Here are some tips from the National Institute on Aging, AARP and Aging in Place

Easy modifications to eliminate tripping hazards and prevent falls:

  • Remove throw rugs
  • Take care to keep electrical and phone cords out of the way
  • Remove low furniture
  • Remove or create a place for the bedspread; many an older person has tripped on a bedspread spilling out onto the floor
  • Move or remove all clutter

More serious renovations for convenience and easy access:

  • If you have stairs at the entrance to your home, install a sloping walkway for ease of access and make sure pathways are clear and not slippery; the house number should be free and clear for emergency medical personnel to see, should the need arise
  • If you have a multi-story home, explore whether you could exclusively on the first floor to avoid stairs; if you use stairs, consider installing a stairlift
  • Widen doorways to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers; replace doorknobs and bathroom faucets with lever handles for ease of opening
  • Install counter space of variable heights in the kitchen, for those who wish to, or have to sit
  • Adjust shelving so that needed objects are within easy reach, or move those objects so that they can be reached without climbing or stretching
  • Ensure adequate lighting; nightlights that come on automatically should especially be placed near stairs, in hallways, and near bathrooms
  • Raise electrical outlets to 18 inches off the floor, so one doesn’t have to bend quite as low to plug and unplug
  • In the bathroom, grab bars become a must; check to make sure toilet seat is at a convenient height or needs raising; benches in the shower are a big help; they can be built in if a bathroom is being renovated; hand-held showerheads can be used for those using benches, as well as accommodating those standing
  • Some guides recommend smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of the home. Make sure you can hear them

Some of these home modifications can be expensive, running into the thousands of dollars. But, they can also keep you from falling or otherwise hurting yourself and needing a caregiver or having to move, which is bound to be far costlier.

You might be able to get help paying for these modifications. If you have Medicaid, it may help cover the cost of home modifications, depending where you live. And the Veterans Administration may also cover the cost of some home modifications.
Occupational therapists can generally recommend key home modifications. There is also a growing industry of Certified Aging in Place Specialists.  Check with your area agency on aging.
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