home modifications for elderly

Home Modifications for Elderly and Disabled Persons

Home Modifications for Elderly and Disabled Persons - Making Life Easier In Every Room

Every year, thousands of people are forced to move from their own home into assisted living facilities or nursing homes. 

You don’t have to be one of them. 

People are often forced to move because their home environment does not fit their needs, or is unsafe, or there is no one available to help them with activities of daily living. 

With some advanced planning and simple home modifications, you can stay in your home for longer than you may have thought possible, and age in place for as long as you wish.

There are simple modifications you can make in every room of your home to make your environment fit your needs. Some of these modifications are based on universal design guidelines, others are common sense, and some relate to specific physical needs. 

We’re going to go over general tips for modifications throughout your home, and then dive into what you can do in specific rooms of your home to improve your safety, independence, and peace of mind.

Some of these modifications you can handle yourself if you like to DIY, others require professional installation.

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Home Modifications Throughout Your Home

home lighting tips

Improve Lighting and Reduce Glare

My parents lived through the Great Depression. They were very thrifty and tended to worry about having enough money, so growing up we learned to do what we could to conserve energy and lower costs. I can still hear my mom telling me to turn the lights off when I left a room.

I spent late nights reading in bed with a flashlight under the covers. Partly because I was supposed to be going to sleep and didn’t want to get caught staying up past my bedtime, and partly because I didn’t want to get discovered with the room light on. I’m not sure which one I would’ve gotten in trouble for the most.

If any of you lived through similar situations, I give you permission to put as many lights on in the house that you need! You’ve got to be able to see where you’re going and what you’re doing.

Recommended Lighting (in Lumens & Foot Candles-FC):

Living Room 3,000-5,000 – 50 FC

Kitchen 5,000-10,000 – 50-100 FC

Dining Room 3,000-6,000 – 20-30 FC

Bedroom 3,000-5,000 – 50 FC

Bathroom 4,000-8,000 – 100 FC

Hallways/Stairways 4,000-8,000 – 40-50 FC

How to better understand watts, lumens, foot candles and bulbs.

A good rule of thumb for lighting is, if you can see clearly and easily, you have enough lighting. If you can’t, increase the overall lighting or add some task lighting – desk lamps, under counter lighting, etc.

If you want to geek out, get a light meter like photographers use, then multiply the square footage of the room times the room foot candle requirement. This will give you your total lumens. Add more if you have any vision impairments or just want the room or area brighter.

You can also use this online converter that will convert foot candles to lumens per square meter.

As we age, our risk for eye diseases and conditions increase – things like glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye, and lower vision overall. These diseases and conditions may result in impaired vision, and increased lighting can help.

Tips to Improve Lighting:

  • Increase lighting in every room to recommended levels listed above
  • Increase task lighting (desks, kitchen sink & counters, bathrooms, garage workshops)
  • Increase area lighting (under counters, along steps, etc.) with motion sensor LED strip lights
  • Use illuminated rocker switches instead of regular switches
  • Use motion- or sound-detected lighting or smart home lighting throughout the home and outdoors for all entry areas
  • Place LED night-lights in every room
  • Place/move electrical outlets to at least 20″ from the floor
  • Have a 30-48″ clearance to access manual light switches or use light switch extenders
  • Use LED lights for longer use (fewer trips up a ladder or step-stool)
  • Always have more than one light source in a room
  • Have high-lumen flashlights in every room (and next to your bed) in case of power failure

Reduce Glare – Glare can be reduced by using a variety of multiple light sources. For example, you can have a combination of overhead lighting, table lamps, wall sconces and track or canned lights. 

When using lamps and sconces, be sure that the shades are at eye level – anything above or below may result in contrast glare and become hazardous to someone.

Also try to use non-reflective flooring, countertops, desktops, tabletops and furniture whenever possible.

Widen Doorways

Doors should be 36″ wide, but anywhere from 32″-36″ is an improvement over narrower door widths. Doorways over 32″ wide will accommodate most wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters.

A doorway should have a minimum of 18″ of clearance to the doorknob/handle to allow for accessibility. This may need to be increased depending on how the door swings open.

You can also reverse the swinging direction of the door to allow for better access – i.e., swinging out to a hallway instead of swinging into the bathroom.

If you aren’t able to hire someone to reframe and widen the doorways in your home, you can install offset door hinges to give you a few more inches.

raised electrical outlet

Raise Electrical Outlets and Lower Switches and Thermostats

Electrical Outlets should be raised to about 18″-24″ from the floor for easier access.

Light switches and thermostats should be lowered to between 36″-44″ from the floor.

A smart home device can come in handy here – you can use your mobile device to control lighting and temperature no matter where you are. I confess that I don’t get out of bed to put the heat on in the mornings – I just control it from my phone!

Use contrasting colors so the outlets and switches can be more easily seen. If you have a white or off-white wall, consider colored switch plates in grey, blue, orange, or patterns.

Use Lever Door Handles and C or D Shaped Cabinet Hardware

Lever door handles can be opened without having to grip and turn, like standard round door knobs. This is helpful for people who have hand or wrist weakness or arthritis.

Using C or D shaped cabinet pulls make them easier to open – again, no gripping required. They can even be opened with a reacher grabber.

barrier free front door accessible

Entrances and Exits

When you think about accessible entrances and exits, think barrier-free and safe. Home modifications for elderly and disabled persons start with garage and home entry spaces and are super important!

  • Door thresholds should be level with the flooring, inside and out – no more than 1/2″ disruption
  • Zero step – no steps are best
  • Get a portable threshold ramp if there’s no way to level your doorway
  • Doorways should be 36″ wide with lever handles on the doors
  • Non-slip surface, no mats or throw-rugs
  • Smooth, even surfaces – no cracks or rises in flooring or pavement
  • Well-lit with motion detector lighting
  • Handrails – 1-1/2″ in diameter
  • Pathways (4′ wide), ramps (36″ wide) or wide platform steps
  • Adequate maneuvering room for wheelchairs, walkers, rollators, scooters, baby strollers – 60″ maneuvering space recommended for wheelchairs
  • Protected from rain, snow, ice
  • Keyless entry at front door
  • Mailbox or mail drop at the front entry for easy access
  • Shelf or bench for packages at the front entry for easy access
  • Ability to see visitors through peephole, door sidelight or visual doorbell
non slip floor ada safety elderly

Flooring

The type of flooring you have can affect how safe you are in your home. Slick, shiny floors can cause glare and be slippery. Throw rugs and some area rugs are trip hazards. The wrong indoor or outdoor tile can cause slips and falls.

Flooring and coefficient of friction rating (COF). Tile and other flooring materials have a special rating that shows how slip-resistant it is. These ratings are only used in the United States, so tile and flooring coming from other countries may not have it listed. Higher ratings are better than lower ratings.

There should be two different COF ratings listed – static and dynamic. The Static COF should be no less than 0.6, and the Dynamic COF should be no less than 0.42 to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

If you are looking into purchasing new flooring, ask the store what the ratings are on each type you are considering.

Here are some flooring guidelines to keep you on your feet.

  • High COF rating  – minimum of 0.42, 0.6 best
  • Smooth surface
  • Non-glare surface
  • Low-pile carpet – less than 1/2″
  • No throw-rugs
  • Rug gripper on area rugs
senior fire safety smoke detector

Home Safety Devices

To help prevent a disaster, your home should have multiple smoke alarms, and heat, low-temperature, water and carbon monoxide detectors.

It’s possible to forget to turn off stovetops and ovens, leave a cigarette burning, place paper or other flammable items too close to a hot surface, candle or fireplace, and other safety hazards.

It’s also possible to forget to turn on the heat or A/C, or be unaware that it’s not functioning properly. Do you know how cold your garage gets in the winter? Your pipes might be at risk for freezing or bursting, and that can cause bigger, more expensive problems.

Reduce your risk by following these guidelines:

Smoke alarm – every bedroom and sleeping area, hallways, and at least one on every floor

CO detector – every bedroom and sleeping area, hallways, and at least one on every floor

Heat detector – kitchen, garage, mechanical room

Combustible gas detector – anywhere there is a propane or natural gas appliance

Cold (low temp) detector – one on each level of home, usually by each thermostat

Water sensor – under refrigerator, dishwasher, washer/dryer, crawl space, water heater, exterior wall bathrooms, toilets, upstairs & downstairs

Panic alarm – Portable, wearable, and general home panic device near front door

Radon detectors – basement (if you live in an area that may be exposed to radon gas)

Many home security and alarm companies have these products that can be monitored. When a device alarms, a notification will be sent to a central station who will then call the designated contact person, police, or emergency medical personnel, so you can take care of the situation right away.

Some device alerts can also be sent to a smartphone, tablet, computer or television.

If you’re in Central Oregon, I highly recommend Atlas Security in Bend for these home safety and security solutions.

bathroom safety elderly rustic bathroom

Home Modifications for the Bathroom

I’m sure you’ve heard this before – the bathroom is where most elderly and disabled persons fall in the home.

Whether it’s getting on and off the toilet, trying to get into the bathtub or shower, or tripping on a throw-rug, the bathroom can be a risky place.

There are easy things you can do to reduce your risks in the bathroom.

Pro Tip: If you’re considering a remodel, make sure the contractors include 2×6″ or 2×8″ blocking in the bath/shower walls and anywhere else you may need to install grab bars. That way you won’t have to worry if there is a stud where you want to place the support/grab bar.

home modifications for elderly

Home Modifications for the Kitchen

The kitchen is often considered the heart of the home. It’s where people tend to gather to prepare food and cook, share meals, or just hang out together.

If you have a temporary or long-term disability or injury, everyday activities can be much more difficult – and that includes kitchen activities.

Tasks that you do all the time suddenly become really hard! Have you ever tried to cut a piece of fruit or a vegetable with one functional hand? I have, and almost injured myself in the process.

Luckily, there are helpful suggestions and products that can keep us from harm in the kitchen.

accessible laundry room front load washer and dryer

Home Modifications for the Laundry Room

Doing laundry doesn’t have to be a painful or difficult chore. There are many ways you can make your life easier in the laundry room.

accessible bedroom

Home Modifications for Bedrooms

Your bedroom is often the most comfortable place in your home. It helps you get a good night’s sleep and is a peaceful refuge from the rest of the world.

You can make your bedroom safer and more accessible too if you include some of these recommendations:

accessible raised garden beds

Patio and Garden Modifications

There’s something about getting your hands dirty in the garden that is very satisfying. And seeing the fruits (or vegetables or flowers) of your labor grow, is just icing on the cake. 

There’s no reason to give up gardening or enjoying your patio and other outdoor spaces while aging in place. 

With a little planning, you’ll be able to keep gardening and soaking up the sun and fresh air for as long as you wish.

Here are some simple  modifications you can make to extend your outside time.

  • No-step entry to patio area
  • 36″ wide, level, smooth pathways
  • Non-slip outdoor pavers, tile, concrete, or decking – COF 0.6 or higher
  • Raised flower and vegetable garden beds to 30″ height – include space for chair or wheelchair to fit underneath raised bed
  • Large container garden pots raised up to a comfortable height and on wheels
  • Garden hose storage and guide – I have this one and it works great
  • Sturdy chairs, tables and benches or retaining wall seating
  • Rolling gardening seat, Garden Hopper, or folding garden seat with tool holder

We hope you find these home modifications for elderly and disabled people helpful! Please feel free to share this information with others who may need it.

If you have specific questions, please contact us! We’d love to hear from you.

Check out some of our other helpful posts:

Fall Prevention in the Elderly

Products for Seniors Living at Home

Innovative Products for Elderly

Tips on Downsizing to a Smaller Home

 

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Fall Prevention At Home in the Elderly –

Fall Prevention at Home in the Elderly

Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room because of a fall – 2.8 million of us, every year. Fall prevention at home in the elderly, disabled, and for those aging in place is a critical need. The next time you are out with a few friends, take a look around – one of you will sustain a fall this year – yes, 1 in 4 seniors age 65+ fall each year.

Kind of scary, right? Well, brace yourself for this fact – every 19 minutes, an older adult actually dies from a fall. These statistics from the National Council on Aging are meant to give you a reality check.

Just like the injury I never thought I’d have, I didn’t think it would happen to me. But as we age, we need to be more realistic and prepare for what could happen; what statistics show probably will happen.

The truth is, anyone can accidentally fall, no matter what age you are. But falls are harder on older adults, and we don’t always recover as fast or as well as those who are younger. Falls can result in serious injuries, like broken hips, broken bones, and head injuries. 

Unfortunately this was the case for my dad.

My dad was getting along pretty well in his early 90’s. He was on very little medication, was a healthy weight, and stayed pretty active for someone his age. He definitely had some short-term memory issues, but was still driving around town, going to church, planting his delicious tomatoes every year, doing his word puzzles, BBQing, and enjoying life with family and friends. We used to meet just about weekly for coffee or lunch with chocolate milkshakes.

Here’s a picture of him at one of the milkshake places. I love that smile!

 

He had some minor falls periodically. I remember one day I called him and he said he fell in the hardware store parking lot. He said a few nice people helped him but he had some cuts and bruises. Of course I rushed over there to check him out, and he was mostly ok. He didn’t even remember why or how he fell. He just did.

A couple of months later, I received a call from his wife saying he had fallen and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Turns out he had gotten up to take some pain reliever, tripped over some clothes that were on the floor near his side of the bed, and fell and broke his hip.

This was the beginning of the end of the life of a vibrant man who I loved immensely. I still cry when I think about how much his life changed at that moment.

In the weeks that followed, he was in the ER, ICU, and med/surg room at the hospital, and then in hospice care at the VA hospital. He was on meds that made him extra confused, delirious, and occasionally hallucinate. By the time we got him weaned off the meds and stable, it was too late for surgery to fix the hip, too late for anything but palliative care. He was ready to go.

I spent every day with him. My boss at the time let me work remotely from his hospice room. I would play music he liked and ocean sounds (he loved the beach!) on my computer, talk to him whether he was awake or not, put lip balm on his dry, chapped lips, and gave him a little taste of whiskey every now and then until he didn’t want it anymore (shh, don’t tell the nurses). Then I drank it. I arranged for a private agency caregiver to be with him during the nights so he wouldn’t be alone. He passed away one early morning in October, as the caregiver sat next to him in the dark.

This personal experience is one major reason that I do what I do now. I want people to be safe in their homes, and when I advise people to “remove the clutter and don’t have anything on the floor,” it comes from a very personal place. 

I don’t want bad things to happen just because there’s a pile of clothes next to your bed. Or because you lost your balance in the bathroom. Or because the lighting wasn’t good enough and you tripped. Or because you don’t want to use the cane or walker. Or because you weren’t holding on to the handrails and fell down the stairs.

Falls can also cause other problems. Once someone falls, they are often scared they will fall again, and may start to limit their activities, like what they do around the house or leaving the house to visit with friends. This can lead to social isolation, depression, feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and general physical and mental decline.

This is not always the case, however. Some people experience a fall and broken hip, get a hip replacement, recover and do physical therapy, and are absolutely fine. Some even have the other hip done too. Or a knee, or shoulder. 

Why do some people fare better than others? Well, some of it has to do with genetics, overall health, or with the physical condition you are in before the accident occurs. Generally, if you’re in pretty good shape, you’ll get through the experience easier and with less recovery time. 

Answer these questions:

  • How’s your balance?
  • Can you stand on one leg for 5 seconds without falling over?
  • Do you hold onto furniture as you walk through your home?
  • Are there any areas of your body that are weak or unusable?
  • Are you on any medications that make you dizzy or lightheaded?
  • Do you have trouble getting up from a chair or couch?

How you fare also depends on your environment. Is your home safe and clutter-free? Check out some home modifications and assistive technology devices that can help make life safer and easier for you.

Fall prevention at home in the elderly is very doable. There are simple things people can do to protect themselves from future harm.

How To Prevent Falls In the Elderly

This video from the National Council on Aging describes 6 steps you can take today to reduce your fall risk. Take a look, then I’ll go into more detail below.

6 Steps To Prevent A Fall

In review, here are the 6 steps for fall prevention:

  • Start a balance improvement/exercise program
  • Talk with your doctor about your risks
  • Discuss your medications with your doctor or pharmacist
  • Get your vision and hearing checked
  • Keep your home safe
  • Talk with your family and ask for support

Start a Balance Improvement/Exercise Program

You’ve probably heard the phrase “use it or lose it.” This pretty much sums up the physical part of aging. If you don’t use your muscles and keep them strong, they’re not going to support you or be of use when you need them. Like when you’re trying to get out of the bathtub, or off the couch.

Now I’m not saying you have to train like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But some daily strengthening, balance and flexibility exercises will go a long way in keeping you safe from falling, and improve your overall health.

Here are some good examples:

  • Swimming
  • Tai Chi
  • Walking 
  • Yoga or Chair Yoga
  • Dancing
  • Water Aerobics
  • Cycling
  • Pilates
  • Silver Sneakers Fitness Program
  • Community Fall Prevention Programs

Many community and senior centers, YMCAs, hospitals and medical clinics offer these classes, or you can buy DVDs online, or stream classes so you can do them from anywhere that has an internet connection.

The Silver Sneakers Program is a free fitness program (offered by many qualifying health plans) for people aged 65+. Check your eligibility.

Find your local Areal on Aging office for recommendations of classes and programs near you.

Don’t forget to talk with your doctor about which fitness program would be best for you.

Tai Chi Demonstration

Talk With Your Doctor About Your Risks

Talk with your primary care physician about any potential risks you may have for falling. If you’ve had a fall or are afraid of falling, let your doctor know. He/she can recommend the best course of action, and can authorize treatment, physical therapy or DME (durable medical equipment) that may help and be partially or fully paid for by your health insurance or Medicare Part B. See which medical equipment is eligible for Medicare coverage.

Discuss Your Medications with Your Doctor or Pharmacist

It’s important to discuss all the medications you are taking with your doctor or pharmacist to determine if any of them may cause dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision, drowsiness, weakness, or anything else that could make you lose your balance, or impair your vision, memory, mobility, or agility.

All of these side effects put you at greater risk for falls and other unwanted accidents.

Also talk with your doc about any symptoms you may have, like needing to go to the bathroom frequently. If you’re half asleep and rushing to the bathroom, you may fall on the way.

Check Your Hearing and Vision Annually

Impaired vision or hearing can definitely increase your fall risk. Get yourself checked out annually because your prescription may have changed a little and you don’t realize it.

Remember in the video when the man was walking down an outdoor path and didn’t hear the person behind him? He could have easily walked in front of that person and caused an accident. If you have hearing aids, please wear them.

If your vision is impaired, there are so many things that can go wrong in a day. Everything from tripping over an object you don’t see, to missing the burner on the stove and burning yourself. If you have glasses or contacts, please wear them.

There are simple home modifications available to help with vision and hearing impairments.

Keep Your Home Safe

Does your home fit you? Does it fit your current and future abilities? 

There are easy home modifications and assistive technology devices for every room in your home, and for every ability level, that will improve your safety, independence, and peace of mind.

This is the place you should focus on the most to help prevent falls and allow you to age in place well.

Talk With Your Family & Ask For Support

Talk with your family and close friends and let them know that you’re working on fall prevention. Ask them for their support. 

Here are some ways they can help:

  • Help you declutter, re-arrange furniture & put everyday items within reach
  • Take an exercise class with you
  • Get bids from a contractor or handyman to help install necessary items like grab bars or modified steps
  • Be with you when you’re feeling unsteady, or hire someone to be there
  • Hold your arm while taking a walk
  • Assist you in the bathroom
  • Check on you in person or via telephone
  • Get groceries and run errands for you

Don't Let Falls Happen To You

Don’t be one of those scary statistics. Don’t let falls happen to you. Don’t let pride get in the way of keeping yourself safe! Protect yourself by adapting and decluttering your environment, improving your strength and balance, and using an assistive device when you need one.

My dad always used to say “all you need to succeed in life is a positive mental attitude.” I would add – “and a safe home environment.” But just about, Dad. Just about.

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