Safe Eye for the Aging Guy: Home Improvements to Promote Safety

As your favorite senior heads into his golden years, “makeover” may not be the first thing on your mind. But, I’m going to tell you why it should be.

No, I’m not talking about haircuts, wardrobe changes, or eyebrow plucking (although a little grooming never hurt anybody). I’m talking about making over his home to improve his safety. By improving his home, you help him age in place. You are not only upgrading a home, but you’re also improving a life.

Below is an array of home improvement options. I’ve ranked them by difficulty level. We’ve started with simple solutions that need nothing but a credit card. The next suggestions may need a bit more skill, coordination, money or muscle.

Level 1 – The Do It Yourself-er

These quick and dirty home improvement changes may seem small, but they can help maximize the safety of your senior’s home. You ought to be able to pick these things up at Target, Wal-Mart, or at your favorite local durable medical equipment company.

  • Improving safety for seniors through home improvementsBuy shower mats and seats for the shower. These little lifesavers will help your senior keep his balance and avoid slips and falls during shower and bath time. This is important because most slips and falls happen in and around your shower. Plus, he’s worked a long, full life. He deserves to take a load off.
  • Entrances, hallways, stairs and crevices in the garage can be hazardous monsters of the night. Battle these buggers with nightlights in every corridor of the home. This little fix is particularly helpful for those with impairments in vision. Motion detector night lights are inexpensive and better for the environment. Plus, you won’t need to crouch down to turn them on and off every night.
  • Buy a simple flashlight and set it up next to the bedside table. Check the batteries often. If the power goes out, you’ll be ready to go.
  • Take a long, slow walk around your senior’s home. Remove or replace throw rugs. While you’re at it, note any loose carpeting or flooring. Replace, repair, staple, or tape down anything baggy or loose. Any major fixes will take you up to Level 2 or Level 3.

Level 2 – Call a Neighborhood Teenager

Level 2 home improvement tasks may be a little more than you or your senior can muster, but should prove doable for the local teen with a toolbox close at hand. If strapping lads or lasses are in short supply in your neighborhood, you can call a family member or a trusted friend.

  • Add grab bars that double as aesthetic elements. You don’t need to use the grab bars of old. Nowadays, elegant and classy grab bars are available and easy to affix.
  • Install additional lighting in kitchen, hallways, staircases and outside walkways. Switch your light switches to rocker switches. This will make sure they’re easy and accessible for your senior and for guests and visitors alike.
  • Tighten the stairway bannisters. Secure newel posts, replace joinery on the rails, reattach wall brackets, tighten rail bolts and glue/replace balusters.
  • Install roll-out drawers at kitchen base cabinets. This will make it easy to reach the hard to reach pots or pans.
  • Get unhinged. Often a simple change of hinges can add inches to allow accessibility. Widening doorframes to accommodate potential walkers or wheelchairs takes you to Level 3. A quick fix is using swing away or offset door hinges to provide up to 1.75-2″ of additional clearance.

Level 3 – Call Bob Vila

Level Three home improvement options includes ones that may need a little more help than the local teens can offer your senior.

  • Consider curbless showers to make entrance quick and simple and user-friendly for all. A little European shower might make your home much safer.

    Photo by Penny Mathews on Stock.xchng

    Photo by Penny Mathews on Stock.xchng

  • Redo your countertops. Help his aging eyes and change the color of the counters to clearly delineate the edges from the flooring. Height-adjustable countertops in both the kitchen and bathroom accommodate height differences and increase ease of access and safety
  • Ramp it up. Ramps are useful for when sloping walks or decks are not possible. Keep in mind that the incline of ramps may not be the best solution for those with walkers, crutches or canes.
  • Finally, weather-proof your stairs and ramps with deck paint and a bit of added in sand. This will add year round traction and improve the safety for your senior.

Your senior’s home should accommodate him, not vice versa. Remind him that he’s not planning for old age, but rather for continued independence. Have an honest and open conversation about the steps necessary to get there.

Remember, you don’t need the crew from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to make your home more liveable and much safer. All you need to do is to start at the top of the list with what you can do and work your way down to the bottom.

Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of Alert-1, an aging-in-place technology company headquartered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with offices nationwide. Shayne has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard College and a Masters in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Shayne hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.

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