Guest Post by Jan Bolder, lead content writer for LivingSenior.com
The top desire of seniors is to maintain dignity, independence and quality of life as long as possible, and one of the easiest ways of achieving that is to age in place, or staying in their own home instead of transferring to an assisted living facility. For many seniors, though, this may seem unattainable, but all it requires is a few minor adjustments around the home.
Seniors—all people—spend about a third of their lives sleeping, and outfitting the room is the most important priority. It doesn’t take much to redo a bedroom so it’s safe and easy to navigate for seniors, but it does take a bit of time and planning.
The bed doesn’t need many alterations, but there are a few things that should be fixed so seniors can get in and out with ease, which is important if they wake up a lot during the night, and stay in comfortably.
- Handrail: Affixing a handrail to the side of the bed is really easy and doesn’t cost much at all. Handrails specifically for adults don’t resemble the ones on children’s beds at all, as these ones look more like one side of a cube with a lip at the top and bottom. One of the lips slides in between the box spring and mattress, while the other one—the top lip—sits above the mattress and usually features curved, polished wood that’s easy to grip.
- Footstool: Seniors shouldn’t sleep in beds too low to the ground because it can be hard on the joints, particularly the knees. As well, seniors with poor muscle strength may find it difficult to generate enough leg muscle power to stand up unassisted. With a footstool, though, seniors can bypass knee and muscle problems easily.
- Floor Mat: Regardless of the surface of the floor in a senior’s bedroom, placing a walkway mat made of grippy rubber can help tremendously for walking around. If the floor is carpeted, the softness may make it hard to feel where the foot goes but it’s more cushioned for falls; a hard bare floor may be easier to navigate but is more unforgiving for trips and slips.
- Nightlight: As seniors age, their eyes undergo two major changes—more rods than cones are lost (the photoreceptors that allow us to detect movement), and the muscles in the iris weaken (which control the dilation and restriction of the pupil and how much light is let in). Plugging in a small nightlight, such as in the corner or hallway, can often be enough of a difference maker to prevent falls in the night.
Remodeling a bathroom to make it more senior-friendly will take a bit more work than the bedroom, but not much, and the results will be instantaneously beneficial. One of the habits of seniors is to “birdbath”, where they stand in front of the kitchen sink and bathe themselves that way because it’s more physically secure.
To maintain dignity and quality of life, using the bathroom for its designated purpose and eschewing birdbaths is highly important, and the following changes can achieve that:
- Guardrail: Coming in either portable plastic or permanent metal, guardrails are an essential part of showers and tubs for seniors. A good guardrail will have a roughened grip on it so it’s easy to hold, and be at a height that doesn’t require overextending the shoulder or arm.
- Bathmat: The bottom of a shower or tub is slippery enough on its own, but add in water and soap, and it can quickly become extremely dangerous. Adhering a suction-cupped bathmat to the bottom of the tub or shower gives seniors extra stability.
- Shower/Tub Chair: Some seniors may find it difficult to stand for long periods of time, and so a bath-ready chair provides an easy alternative. Look for a chair with arms on both sides, a slightly roughened seat for grip and stability, holes in the seat for water drainage, and rubber pads on the bottom of the feet for reduced movement.
- Toilet Seat: A raised toilet seat makes it infinitely easier for seniors to sit down and stand up without worrying about getting stuck or falling. And because they’re made of plastic, they’re also easier to clean than regular toilet seats. As well, placing a handrail beside the toilet also assists the senior with getting on and off easily.
Getting between floors in their house can be one of the most difficult tasks for a senior, and one of the largest barriers preventing them from aging in place. There are many services for seniors, such as driving them to appointments and activities or delivering meals, but if the senior can’t get to their front door, it’s all for naught.
One of the easiest ways to amend this is to install a handrail on the staircase, if there isn’t one there already. Other alterations may be a bit more costly, but just as necessary. For example, rebuilding the stairs to make them wider and shallower makes it much easier for seniors to get up and down on, and removing carpeting can also make a difference.
Because everybody needs to eat, a senior’s ability to cook for themselves is key to aging in place. Remove the ability to do that, and necessary assistance means non-independent living. However, making a kitchen senior-friendly is far easier to do than it looks.
The first step is to make it walkable, and that can be done with rubber, no-stick floor mats in front of key areas like the stove, sink, fridge, table, and door entrance. It’s better to spend a bit more money and get one with beveled edges to avoid tripping, and the better quality ones also have the added bonus of absorbing shock so seniors can stand for longer periods of time.
Small changes like bottom-weighted cups, an electric can opener, a footstool for high cabinets, pull-down shelves, and countertop microwaves all make it easier for a senior to use their own kitchen, thus enabling them to age in place much longer.