By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend to help make a home safer for aging in place? My 76-year-old mother wants to stay in her own home for as long as possible, but she doesn’t have the money for big renovations.
There are dozens of small adjustments and simple modifications you can do to help make your mom’s home safer and more fit for aging in place that won’t cost her much, if anything at all. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
Eliminate Trip and Slip Hazards
Since falls are the leading cause of home injury among seniors, a good place to start is by arranging or moving your mom’s furniture so there are clear pathways to walk through. Position any electrical or phone cords along the wall so they won’t be a tripping hazard. If she has throw rugs, remove them or use carpet tacks or double-sided tape to secure them. And pick up items on the floor that could cause her to trip, like papers, shoes or clothes.
In the bathroom, buy some non-skid rugs for the floors, and a rubber mat or adhesive nonslip strips for the floor of the tub or shower to prevent slipping, and have a carpenter install grab bars in and around the tub/shower and near the toilet for support.
Good lighting is very important for safe aging in place, so check the wattage ratings on your mom’s lamps and light fixtures and install the brightest bulbs allowed. Purchase some nightlights for the bathroom and the hallways that are used after dark. And consider adding under-cabinet task lighting in the kitchen, and motion sensor lights outside the front and back doors and in the driveway.
If your mom has hand arthritis or problems griping, install lever-style door handles (or doorknob lever adapters), which are easier to use than doorknobs. The same goes for twist-knob kitchen or bathroom faucets, which you can replace with a single lever, touch or sensor-style faucet. And consider replacing knobs on cabinets and drawers with easier-to-grip D-shaped handles.
To help make your mom’s kitchen easier to use, organize her cabinets so the things she uses most often are within easy reach without a lot of stooping or using a step stool. Also, consider installing pullout shelves beneath the counter and Lazy Susans in corner cabinets for easier access. And get her a kitchen stool so she can sit down while she’s working.
In the bathroom for easier and safer bathing, consider purchasing a shower chair and install a hand-held shower so your mom can bath from a seated position if need be.
If your mom uses a walker or wheelchair, you can adapt her house by installing ramps on entrance steps, and mini-ramps to go over high thresholds. You can also install “swing-away” or “swing-clear” hinges on her doors to add two inches of width for easier access.
To keep your mom safe, set her hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent scalds. If she has stairs, put handrails on both sides. Also, install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on all levels of her house, and place a lightweight, easy-to-use ABC-rated fire extinguisher in an easily accessible location in the kitchen.
For more tips, get a copy of AARP’s “HomeFit Guide” that’s filled with dozens of aging-in-place recommendations. You can access it at AARP.org/homefit, or call 888-687-2277 and ask them to mail you a free copy.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.