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As an individual ages, her ability to live independently is severely
restricted. And once an aging individual shows signs that they are in danger of falling,
or that they cant navigate their home any longer, that a nursing home is the safest
option. Or at least that is the common perception.
With careful consideration and some creative thinking,
families can make some modest changes to a home that will make it safer and easier for
their loved one to stay there longer. In many cases, minimal changes to the home
environment can have a significant impact on independence.
Most injuries occur in one of three primary places within the
home: the bedroom, the bathroom, or in the hallway. So its important to look at
these areas and reduce or eliminate the aspects that can contribute to falls, reduce
mobility, or limited access to features (such as showers and toilets).
- The leading
cause of falls is due to clutter on the floor of a room, especially the bedroom. Make sure
that floors are kept free of cords, piles of papers and magazines, and discarded clothing.
At a minimum, keep clutter away from high traffic areas.
- If your loved one shuffles or uses a
walker, it will help to remove door sills/saddles in between rooms to improve mobility and
reduce the likelihood of tripping.
- Minimize the number of types of flooring
that are used throughout the house. Since we walk differently on various surface types
(plush carpet, polished floors, flat carpet, tile, etc.), it can be problematic for
someone who does not clearly see the floor when the surface changes.
- Use low beveled strips over carpet edges
to prevent tripping and keep a neat appearance.
- If floors are polished or slick, avoid the
use of socks. Wear skid resistant slippers or carpet the floors.
- Remove all throw rugs.
- Many older
adults keep lights turned off (to conserve electricity) and shades drawn (for privacy),
even in the daytime. Sheer drapes allow more light to come in and still provide privacy.
Compact fluorescent bulbs are extremely cost-effective.
- Low light levels can increase depression
as well as contribute to falls.
- Night lights should be installed I=on door
jambs. Use an extension cord from the baseboard if necessary.
- Additional night lighting should be
installed on the path from the bedroom to the bathroom.
heavy-duty screws to install grab bars in the shower and toilet area. Grab bars are used
for stabilization as well as supporting a persons full body weight if they lose
their balance. Mount grab bars onto internal beams, not just into the tile facing.
- Install bars with a textured grip (rather
than smooth stainless steel).
- Install a variety of vertical and
horizontal bars around the shower. Consider your loved ones height and the actual
motions on stepping into and out of a shower/tub.
- Make sure bars that straddle a bathtub rim
are securely attached, especially after removal and cleaning.
- Transfer benches can be used in old narrow
bathtubs so that the individual can slide over the rim using the bench.
- Hand-held shower heads should have an
84 hose attachment and an on-off switch on the nozzle. Install adjustable mounts at
your loved ones head level and hand level, not at the top of the shower.
- Install commode rails onto a toilet as
well as grab bars near the toilet.
These suggestions are not an exhaustive list of
modifications. Individuals should consider financial constraints as well as the
preferences of the aging individual. Individuals affected by Alzheimers Disease have
special needs for safety and comfort that can be addressed by reviewing the series of
articles by Mark Warner on ElderCare Onlines Alzheimers
& Dementia Care Channel.
Home Safety Checklist
- Safety vs. Independence: A Case Study
- Preventing Falls
Guide to Home Modification
Protection: Signing Contracts
- The Complete
Guide to Alzheimers-Proofing Your Home by Mark Warner
- The Complete
Eldercare Planner by Joy Loverde
- Gerontological Environmental
Modifications at New York Presbyterian
Hospital-Weill Medical College of Cornell University http://www.cornellaging.com/gem
- Abledata Product Locator www.abledata.com
- Ageless Design http://www.agelessdesign.com
- National Resource Center on Supportive
Housing & Home Modification http://www.homemods.org
- Centers for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/health/elderly.htm
- The Lighthouse (low vision) http://www.lighthouse.org/sharing_solutions_home.htm
This article is based on a presentation given by Rosemary Bakker, MS, ASID,
Director, Project GEM, Gerontological Environmental Modifications Project at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Medical College of
Cornell University on January 23, 2002 to the Greater New York Chapter of the National
Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.