If you’re like most older adults, you are comfortable at home. And you want to stay there for the long haul. You realize you may need to make some changes to your personal space to remain safe and independent. But how? It starts with keeping your body and mind strong. Just as important is tweaking your home from top to bottom to lower your risk of falling.
Falling a real concern
HomeAdvisor explains that seniors have a significant risk of falling at home. Approximately 60 percent of older adults report a falling accident each year. Even more alarming, once you reach 85 years old, a simple – and preventable – fall can be fatal. Your risk of falling increases as your body naturally experiences a change in vision, muscle composition, and, for some, cognitive awareness.
Age of change
Cataracts, according to Dr. Leila M. Khazemi of Loma Linda University, affect about half of all people by the age of 75. This is a painless and gradual loss of vision that can affect your ability to distinguish colours and adjust to different lighting environments. Surgery can help, but it may not be enough to restore your vision completely. For this reason, added lighting throughout your home is a smart and inexpensive step toward countering the effects of vision decline. Start by changing the light bulbs in each room, so they are all the same colour temperature. Add ambient lighting in the hallway and staircase; LED light strips are a good option since they are inexpensive, adjustable, and easy to install.
Another significant change with age is the loss of muscle and joint function. Northwest Community Healthcare reports that joints become stiff and begin to lose flexibility, cartilage begins to degenerate, and chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis, can set in. All of these things make it more difficult to maintain an upright posture and balance your body weight. Stairs and slippery floor surfaces are two of the most pressing concerns with muscle tone and balance loss, but you can extend your independence by installing grab bars in the shower and sturdy handrails and non-slip stair treads on the stairs. Take note that if you have medical insurance, it’s possible to grab bars might be covered under your policy. Review your coverage to be sure.
Home safety for all
Regardless of your age and current abilities, there are a few other things you can do to enhance the safety and livability of your home. For example, replace small area rugs with a larger rug. This will reduce elevational changes as you walk throughout the house and lessen your chances of becoming suddenly thrown off balance. Similarly, remove furniture that is difficult to see. A glass coffee table or ottoman that is the same colour as your floor are examples of items that might be better off elsewhere. If you routinely spend time outdoors, such as walking to check the mail or tending a garden, make sure the lawn is level and that there are no sinkholes or sudden dips that could leave you lying on the ground.
Larger home renovations, such as remodelling the kitchen to make it more accessible, widening the bathroom to accommodate a wheelchair or walker, or installing an exterior ramp are also options. These should be handled by a licensed contractor that has the experience to maintain your home’s structural integrity during major changes to your floor plan.
For many seniors, simple adjustments to the home can make a world of difference. Things like added lighting and safety rails can go a long way toward offsetting the effects of age. However, there are times when more drastic measures make sense. Wherever you choose to live, remember that safety is your number one priority and the changes you make now can give you a better chance of staying at home where you belong.