2007-02-21 / Seniors

Simple Tips For Making A Home Senior-Friendly

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you give me some tips to make our house more senior-friendly? My wife and I are in our 70s and don't have much of a budget for big projects (nor do we want the construction mess), but we would like to do what we can to stay in our house as long as possible.

Home Bodies

Dear Home:

There are lots of things you can do to make your home safer and easier to live in as you age- and you don't have to spend a fortune doing it. Here are some simple tips to consider.

Household Tips

A home that's perfectly convenient for people in their 50s and 60s can actually become an obstacle when they reach their 70s and 80s. The first tip in making your home more senior-friendly is simply to eliminate clutter- one of the best solutions to prevent accidental falls. Also, be sure to move lamp, extension and telephone cords out of pathways and remove or tape down any throw rugs that slide. Another good tip is to add lighting everywhere. Seniors need twice as much light to see clearly as someone in their 40s. Fullspectrum bulbs are a good option because they can reduce glare. Also, consider replacing round doorknobs with levers and light switches with illuminating rocker switches. They're easier to use for those with arthritis. To better accommodate wheelchairs or walkers, you can easily widen your doorways by two inches with inexpensive offset door hinges. It's also wise to have handrails installed in hallways and wherever steps are present.

Bathroom

More home accidents happen in the bathroom than any other room. Some solutions include:

+ Bath/shower: Add non-skid mats both inside and outside the bath/shower to reduce chances of slipping and falling. Install grab bars for additional support (they come in all styles and colors). And consider getting a hand-held, flexible shower head and a bath/shower chair for bathing comfort and safety.

+ Sink: If you have arthritis or limited hand strength, replacing twist knobs with lever handle faucets can make a big difference.

+ Toilet: If you have problems with leg strength or balance, adding a raised toilet seat extender (it adds two to four inches) and grab bars next to the toilet will make getting up and down a lot easier.

+ Other tips: Install a water-resistant, wall-mounted phone in or near the bath/shower in case of a fall. To avoid burning yourself, add anti-scald devices or turn down the water heater to warm or 120 degrees. And don't forget a nightlight for those middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom.

Kitchen

This is another room that can cause a lot of stresses on the body. Some correctable areas include:

+ Lighting: Brighten up your countertops with easy-to-install under-cabinet task lighting.

+ Cabinets: Replace cabinet and drawer knobs with D-shaped handles. They're more comfortable to grasp for those with arthritis. And replace cabinet shelves with sliding, pull-out shelves - this lets you access items much easier.

+ Appliances: If you're in the market for new appliances, choose a refrigeratorfreezer with side-by-side doors, so everything you use regularly can be placed at mid-shelf range. Dishwashers with a drawer design are easier to load and unload. Have it installed on a raised platform to eliminate bending over. Stoves that open from the side are easier to get into because you don't have to lean over a hot door. And a countertop microwave is also easier to reach and safer versus one above the stove.

+ Extras: Install a peg board with hooks for pots, pans and utensils that's easy to get to, as opposed to bending over to retrieve them from lower cabinets. And get a "reacher" (18 to 36 inches) to reach items on high shelves.

Outside

Install motion sensor lights outside the front and back doors and driveway so you're never in the dark. Put a small table or shelf outside the entrance to hold packages while you unlock the door (remote control door locks are also available at moderate prices). And for walker or wheelchair users, there are easy-to-install add-on ramps for front steps and mini ramps to go over high entrance thresholds.

Savvy Tips: For more information on senior home modification tips, including where to find products and contractors to install them, visit www.homemods.org. Also, visit www.aarp.org/families and click on "Home Design".

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the "NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.

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