Most adults older than age 65, more than 80 percent according to AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), want to remain in their current home as long as possible. As we advance into old age, the risk of injury, especially from falling, increases dramatically. Taking steps to prevent falls is crucial for “aging in place,” which is the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably.
Some of the measures that help make for safer navigation are ramps for accessible entry and exit, increased lighting, non-skid flooring (no loose throw rugs), solid railings, bathroom grab bars, wider doorways, and no thresholds. Many of these modifications to a home are simple and cost effective. Some, however, are expensive, such as transforming a shower into a roll-in/walk-in unit or adding an elevator or stair lift.
In addition to an increased risk of falling and a decrease in mobility as we age, we also face deterioration in all of our senses, plus in our cognitive capacity. Progressive hearing impairment, failing vision, especially when light is dim, and memory decline are prevalent with advancing years.
Technology can enable aging in place in face of many of these aging challenges. In-home monitoring systems can inform remote family members or caregivers about an older person’s daily activities, such as timely taking of medications, regular eating, and the status of other health vital signs. There has been steady improvement in hearing technology and in mental-exercise programs to keep some of the aging limitations at bay.
A number of seniors refrain from these suggested home modifications because they think the products involved have an industrial appearance. This need not be the case; designer grab bars, beautiful shower seats and handheld showers, and aesthetically integrated entry ramps are now available. It is possible to have both good design and practicality.
What seems to work best is to plan ahead and take steps to prepare for these life changes before being faced with an emergency. Some of the most effective features to incorporate are: (1) creating a no-step entry, (2) arranging to live on a single-floor level, (3) widening doorways to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs, (4) installing rocker electrical switches and accessible outlets (18 inches off the floor), and (5) changing to lever-style door handles and faucets to facilitate reduced strength and flexibility in hands and fingers.
Physical improvements to one’s home are essential but of equal if not greater importance to maintain or even improve one’s quality of life and avoid isolation. Next week we will delve into social connectivity, getting around, learning opportunities for the elderly, respect and dignity, volunteering, creating stimulating environments, and engaging with nature.