As increasing numbers of baby boomers reach their golden years, the idea of "aging in place" is rapidly gaining momentum in the US. Nearly 90 percent of seniors prefer the comfort and familiarity of their own homes rather than transitioning to an elder-care facility. As they grow older, modifications may become necessary to allow an elderly person to remain as independent as possible, even as mobility, sensory, or cognitive capabilities decline. Holding onto their autonomy helps seniors maintain optimal mental health, which has a positive impact on their overall well-being.
Adaptations should be made with an emphasis on augmenting a disabled elders capabilities, rather than focusing on disabilities. Consider these strategies for helping an older person live as comfortably, confidently, and independently as possible at home.
Create An Accessible Environment
Changes can be made within the home to reduce physical demands on you or your loved one. You may, for instance, set up a bedroom and bath on the first floor to avoid or minimize trips and slips up and down the stairs. In some homes, this may require renovations. In others, you may already have a first-floor bedroom or be able to convert an office into comfortable sleeping quarters.
Items in various rooms should be placed within easy reach. If your elderly loved one enjoys cooking, make sure pots, pans, and utensils are accessible. Avoid placing groceries or appliances on upper shelves. Adjustable sinks and countertops can make food-prep easier. For seniors who use mobility aids, install trays on walkers or wheelchairs to make it easier for them to move items from one place to another.
Incorporate Assistive Devices
Physical limitations are common as people reach old age. Bringing assistive devices into the home can increase confidence and independence. Seniors who find themselves regularly turning up the volume on the television or asking people to repeat themselves should be evaluated for hearing aids. Likewise, if it's becoming more difficult to get around, a walker, cane, or wheelchair can make movement easier and reduce the risk of falls.
Grip strength and arthritis in the hands is a common issue for the elderly, consider using lever handles on doors and faucets. Those with declining sight can benefit from large-print computer keyboards, remote controls, and telephone keypads. Even when vision loss is severe, you can mark the settings on appliances so that they can be identified by touch.
Take Practical Safety Precautions
Trips, slips, and falls cost seniors $31 billion annually in medical bills. While it's virtually impossible to make a home completely senior-proof, there are some proactive steps you can take to make slips and stumbles less likely. Throughout the home, here are a few general tips to keep in mind:
- Keep walkways clutter-free.
- Place any furniture on wheels in the "locked" position.
- Remove rugs or secure them to the floor with double-sided tape. Install non-slip treads on stairs for better traction.
- Improve lighting with high-wattage bulbs.
- Equip stairways with sturdy hand rails.
- Install nightlights or motion-sensor lighting to make it easier to navigate in the dark.
You can also do a room-by-room assessment of your home (or your elderly loved one's home) to see where other safety precautions may be in order. For example, installing grab bars around the tub and toilet, and placing safety strips on the bottom of the shower, make these areas more fall-proof.
You may also want to equip bedroom closets with grab bars to give older people something to hang onto while dressing and undressing. Safety rails can make it easier for them to get in and out of bed.
Modifications to the home's exterior can promote safety, too. Replacing outside stairs with ramps can make it easier to get in and out of the home. Bright exterior lighting may help seniors feel more confident about venturing out or returning home after dark.
Maintaining a routine can help seniors remain as active and independent as possible. A lack of structure can contribute to feelings of boredom, loneliness, and even worthlessness, especially for those who have recently left the workforce or are experiencing declining health. As much as possible, elders should be encouraged to keep up with the same daily tasks they did when they were healthier, perhaps with a few adjustments. These include housecleaning, cooking, and laundry.
Participate in Meaningful Activities
Pursuing hobbies and leisure activities inside (and outside) the home gives seniors an added sense of purpose and can help them feel less isolated. Within the home, activities such as reading, gardening, or working crossword puzzles can provide a sense of accomplishment, while helping older people maintain skills like eye-hand coordination and mental agility. Activities outside the home such as volunteering or joining a social group can keep your loved one's mind off of the disabilities that they might be suffering from.
The optimal time to prepare for these adaptations is well before they are needed. If other family members are involved in the planning, be sure the your loved on is included too. With enough advance planning, an older individual can budget for changes, such as installing ramps or widening doorways.
Remaining at home allows seniors to continue the same routine they enjoyed before becoming disabled, with minimal disruptions. This may be increasingly possible through enlisting the help of a homecare agency, which provides services for aging seniors while ensuring independence. With home-care support, seniors can live in a comfortable and familiar environment, remain as independent as possible, and stay connected to their communities and social circles.
It's very important to keep in mind that you must take care of yourself as well. Our downloadable guide has some great tips on self-care — we advise you to check it out!