You’ve probably already been a part of a conversation around the best possible environment for your loved one as they grow older (our blog post here has some great tips for this important talk). In a lot of cases the person in question will want to stay in their home, which might be fine at this stage however looking ahead to the long-term living situation it’s clear that most homes are not designed around the specific needs of the aging population.
The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) reports that by 2030 one in five people residing in Ireland will be 65 years or older with the greatest increase in the over 80s age bracket. Due to an abundance of ongoing global research we will hopefully take the opportunity to learn from surrounding aging societies and observe lessons already learned by populations who are successfully supporting and caring for their elderly.
As day-to-day requirements change, there are ways to plan and help make your elderly loved one’s home a safe place to grow old - particularly if they don’t need the services of a nursing home or assisted living facility. With some honest conversations, and our helpful guidelines below, you can be sure to do your best to give your loved one the tools to continue with freedom and independence into this next phase of life.
Generally speaking the expectation is that your loved one will wish to stay at home so there will be a number of factors to consider as you make this decision together. Things like opportunities to socialise, the surrounding community, living conditions and available financial assistance are all worth reviewing as you plan ahead. Our previous blog post on "How to start the discussion with an older loved one” will also be helpful here.
If you’re in a position to review and potentially recreate your elderly relative’s living space then it is very helpful to create a process around what needs to be done so that you don’t feel overwhelmed making their home safe. Find what works for you - one recommendation is evaluating the place room by room for “hazards” and make a list. Here are some tips on what to look out for and where:
A common area of difficulty for those getting older is steps or the staircase in the home. Installing proper lighting in these areas is a good first step to ensuring a safer path around the house. LED stair lights are cheap to run and provide good illumination per step plus look quite stylish and modern. As carpets age, the surface can become slippery so another good tip is to invest in some non-slip tape so that the user can gain traction while using the stairs, hopefully preventing the chances of a fall.
Hand rails on either side of the stairwell are also a very helpful support for when your elderly loved one is at a more frail stage.
Lastly, if they’re finding that the stairs are just too taxing for their everyday needs then it is worth considering installing a chair lift or replacing smaller steps in the house with ramps or wider steps.
Vision deteriorates as we age so getting this element right in the home is an important modification to include. A simple measure that can greatly increase ease of living is to replace the light switches for larger ones, removing opportunity for fumbling or awkwardness for those with arthritis or a tremor. Remote control or touch-operated lights are also popular and effective options for similar reasons.
While energy saving light bulbs are good to your electricity bill they may not be worth the time it takes to fully illuminate a room and help prevent a fall.
Overall, it’s good practise to make sure the house is well lit.
Clutter can build up over time but it is a natural hazard in home when the resident may have limited mobility. Consider rearranging the furniture so as not to obstruct doors, windows and main walkways so that navigating is as straightforward as possible.
Rugs are particularly tricky, especially for those with a walker or a cane, and a lot of the time they aren’t worth the aesthetic appeal due to the risk of tripping. If you absolutely must keep it, look into ways of sticking it to the floor surface - double sided adhesive or rubber backed, making sure you secure all corners and edges.
Lastly, when there’s a step or two to enter a room it can be quite easy to forget that it’s there. Try and make sure any ledge, step or bump that could cause a fall is either removed or replaced by a threshold ramp. This goes for throughout the house.
According to AgeinPlace.com, the bathroom is the most common room in which accidents happen. With the high amounts of moisture in the air the likelihood of slipping or falling increases greatly, condensation can even make carpets slippy. A non-skid rubber mat can greatly help prevent this as can installing permanent grab bars, increasing safe movement around the bathroom in general.
Grab-bars provide support on these surfaces plus alleviate pressure from knees and joints when using the toilet if this is an area of difficulty for your loved one. Installing a shower seat is another measure you can take to offer stability and a place to rest when standing for long periods is problematic.
Something worth considering in the kitchen is installing soft-close door and cabinets. It’s an easier effort for arthritic hands to undertake as too much effort opening or closing could lead to lost balance and a fall.
Ensuring everything is within reach goes without saying. We don’t want our older loved ones to require any sort of ladder usage, or straining themselves bending into a too-deep cabinet. Reorganising the kitchen so that everything is within reach is probably the best modification to make here and then if you think you can go one step further, pull-out shelving for the cabinets could really increase their ease while preparing meals.
🚰 In the case of both doorknobs and faucets around the home, lever models for both are much more comfortable to operate for the elderly than anything needing a rotating movement. Especially in the case of lever-faucets as this a helps to prevent accidental spillages and floods, ie. slip hazards.
🤖 Technological implementations worth considering include Amazon’s Alexa and Echo device - a wifi-connected, smart device with voice activated commands for phone, heating, radio stations and more. Google’s Nest offers a similar service. Essentially both serve as command centres for all the smart devices in your home, therefore you need to have a certain amount of connected devices in order for this to be beneficial. Read more on these value adds here and specifically for the elderly here, Amazon seems to be the favourite but you should see what makes most sense for your family.
🔦 Extended safety measures can include things like a consolidated emergency kit kept somewhere easy to access with torches, batteries, etc in case of an electricity outage or tripped switch. You can also talk to them candidly about how challenging or easy their daily or weekly chores are ie. do they find taking out the bins difficult? With weight and weather conditions there might be a neighbour or friend who could help with this chore. Similarly you can check with them if they need some help maintaining the garden or property in general.
Hopefully this piece can help you get some planning underway with less stress for you and your family! For more information on any of the above mentioned suggestions, please find further resources linked below.