A person’s ability to get around their home and interact with their environment will ultimately determine their success (and satisfaction) with aging in place. Proper planning and modifications can allow you to more safely maneuver around your home should you require assistance in walking, standing or use a wheelchair. Making minor changes can greatly improve your quality of life. For instance, installing grab bars can help you keep your balance in your bathroom and widening doorways can help you get around in your home easier. (This is especially true if you use a wheelchair or power chair.)
Canes, Walkers, Wheelchairs, Power Chairs
There are many assistive devices available to help people get around their home. Wheelchairs and walkers are the most common. Power chairs are also available and can help with outside mobility as well. Remember, you need space to use any of these devices; more than you would need without them. You will also need proper accessible entrances into your home. Your remodeling or changes should include preparations for their use.
Problems With Standing
Bathrooms and kitchens are two areas where standing occurs regularly. Installing grab bars and roll-under sinks can help in these two place. (Roll-under sinks are appropriate for both wheelchair access as well as standard chair use.) You may also wish to consult with your physician or Occupational Therapist to discuss your options for walking and standing assistance.
Bending Over, Reaching Overhead
Many elderly people have difficulty bending over to pick up items or reaching overhead. Using a hand grabber can help with picking up (or reaching) items and reduce the amount of bending or stretching required. Also, the installation of under cabinet, roll-out shelves is a great way to reduce the amount of bending and stooping. You could also consider adding pull-down shelves for the overhead cabinets and installing an adjustable shelving systems.
There are many products available to help elderly people with reduced hearing. Items such as phone (or cell phone) with increased volume or hearing amplifiers (or set-top speaker system) for televisions. Also, visual indicators (flashing lights) for things like the doorbell, telephone and smoke alarms are available.
Grabbing & Grasping Items
Many elderly people have a hard time grabbing or holding on to items. As we age, hand strength may diminish or Arthritis may occur. When buying products, look for items that are design for use by people of all abilities (universal design) that are easy to open, hold or use.
Lighting and contrasting color transitions for floors or counter tops have already been discussed. There are also hand-held magnifiers for reading, the television and computer screens.
Steps and Staircases
Stairs are particularly dangerous for people who may have reduced leg strength or balance issues. Install a handrail up steps and stairs will help, as will having different colored step edges. Both will go a long way towards preventing falls. For those unable to climb stairs, or those that stairs present severely increased difficulty, you might consider installing a stair lift or elevator. (Note, however, that is is advisable to have the rooms you frequent most on the main level of the home.)
The use of electric lift chairs is a great help for those who have a hard time standing from a sitting position. There are many manufacturers that make stylish, contemporary chairs that have lifts built into them. Consult with your local medical supply company to discover your options.
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