May is National Older Americans month. If you or a loved one is over 65, now is a good time to begin the process of “senior-proofing” your home. The next few columns will address ways you can do that.
Step 1: Bathrooms are notoriously the most dangerous room in the house. Begin by installing grab bars in the tub area and near the bathroom stool. Install a handheld shower head. Consider purchasing a raised toilet seat and a bath bench. Replace faucet knobs with lever handles. Replace cabinet knobs with larger, more accessible pulls. Increase overhead lighting and remove as much clutter as possible. Replace child proof lids on medicine bottles, with easy to open tops. Dispose of old medicines and organize daily medications in a clearly marked dispenser. Consider replacing bath tubs with a walk-in or low access bath.
Step 2: Kitchens pose many challenges for the aging. Move frequently used items to more accessible cabinet spaces. Replace faucet knobs with lever handles. Install pull out shelves in lower cabinets. Add additional over head lighting. Replace heavy pans and dishes with lighter more durable ones. Remove rugs or tape them down with double-sided carpet tape. Remove items from higher shelves. Replace non-grounded outlets with GFI receptacles. Keep a fire extinguisher handy at all times.
Step 3: Throughout the home, install adequate lighting. Put cordless phones in every room. Install carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. Arrange furniture to create safe flow patterns throughout each room. Secure extension cords and electrical cords to floors or base boards. Install motion sensing night lights or dusk-to-dawn night lights in bathrooms, bedrooms and hallways. Replace door knobs with lever handles. Install hand rails on both sides of stairways. Reduce the hot water temperature to 120 degrees and install scald-safe faucets if possible. Post emergency phone numbers, in large print, near telephones.
Step 4: Outside the home, install motion-sensing light fixtures. Replace difficult-to-operate locks with handicap-accessible locks. Clear away debris. Install hand rails near steps. Replace damaged or broken walkways with smooth, accessible sidewalks. Replace high-maintenance landscaping with low-maintenance plantings.
Step 5: Consider relocating the main bedroom, a bath and laundry room to the ground-level floor, if they are not already there.
Many things can be done to assure safety and accessibility as we age. Begin the conversation now to assure a safe and productive future for you or the senior in your life.