This week’s blog continues the discussion of an aging adult who wants to stay in his or her home. The introductory installment (on February 11, 2016) discussed the emotional turmoil that can face the adult children in deciding whether to accede to the aging parent’s wishes to stay home. Today’s installment will discuss home modifications that may make it easier for an aging adult to stay home.
If an aging adult has physical ailments but does not have significant cognitive issues, certain modifications to the home may make a big difference in ease of daily activities and quality of life. This isn’t a remodeling to give the home updated decor. These home modifications aim to make the resident’s daily routine (in elder law and long term care management, we refer to “activities of daily living) easier.
A primary concern is stairs. As an adult ages, walking up stairs or down stairs is very risky. To allow an older person to age in place, the tasks that the person must perform must be available on the main floor. This includes a bedroom, full bathroom, kitchen, living room or family room, and laundry.
Another big concern is the bathroom. The wet slippery surfaces make footing unsure. Stepping over the side of a bathtub or over the raised edge of a shower can cause someone who is unsteady on his or her feet to lose balance and possibly fall. Well placed grab bars can give the senior safe hand holds to overcome the slippery floor and the unsteadiness of stepping into or out of the bath or shower. A walk-in tub can take away the high step over the side of a tub (but the person must sit in the tub while it drains before opening the door to get out.) A shower can be redone to be level with the rest of the floor.
For someone who needs a wheelchair, a home can be modified to ease access to the home’s amenities. Under counter cabinets can be removed to allow the wheelchair to fit under the bathroom and kitchen sink. Storage can be provided within reach of the chair. Doorways and hallways can be widened, if necessary (more often in older houses.) If a door needs just a little more width, hinges are available that allow the door to swing all the way open. (If you don’t understand what I mean about the hinges, take a close look at a door with “conventional” hinges. The door itself blocks a couple of inches of the opening of the doorway.)
The modifications discussed above are just examples. Many other possible modifications are available.
To find the modifications that make the most sense, the family may want to consult with an “aging in place specialist.” Such specialists have training and experience that can help identify the most helpful modifications for the loved one’s particular needs.