Independent Living: Home Modification Ideas

Did you know falls are a top reason why seniors lose independence and mobility? Some simple safety modifications around the home can help keep you living independently longer.

We’ve all heard safety rails and non-slip mats are great safety ideas for seniors… but there are oodles of independent living products designed specifically for seniors to help around the house (and life in general). The possibilities for retrofitting a home for independent living are endless.  So let’s take a guided room by room tour of some home modifications and improvements you can make to remain independent so you can age in your own home.

Our suggestions below include those  immediate and affordable things you, a handy person or tradie can do. We then outline some long term/costlier things that may involve more planning, permits and a range of professionals to make large-scale or structural changes to your home.

Photo from tadwa.org.au

Entryway and stairs

  • Make sure there is ample lighting at all your home’s entry doors. A motion-sensor light can be ideal for this purpose.  
  • Remove any trip hazards  or cracked pavers from your walkways.
  • Add a bench or shelf near the door as a resting place for you and your shopping.
  • Add a handrail on the inside stair wall to supplement the outside hand rail.
  • Add non-skid treads or a secured-in-place runner to eliminate a trip hazard on uncarpeted stairs.
  • Replace standard switches with easier-to-use rocker switches at entryways and throughout the home.
  • If you have stairs, add a three-way switch at the top and bottom of staircases to ensure safe footing in both directions.
  • Long term you may need to add a ramp to yoWet areas ur home and widen doors and hallways to accommodate a wheelchair user.

Sleeping

If your bedroom is upstairs and you or a loved one lacks good balance, is using a walker or is in a wheelchair, you may consider converting any private first-level room to a bedroom.  

  • Make sure your bedspreads and linen does not reach the floor in order to avoid your feet getting tangled
  • Before getting out of bed, sit on the edge of the bed with both feet flat on the floor.  Take a minute to make sure you’re not experiencing any dizziness and your balance is good before standing.
  • Nightstands need to be sturdy and able to support your weight to assist with standing and balance
  • Ensure you allow room near the bed for a walker or wheelchair.
  • Keep clutter in the bedroom to a minimum and never leave laundry baskets, shopping bags or boxes on the floor in your walking path.
  • Night lights and motion sensors  are the perfect, low-cost solution for people who frequently get up at night. Studies show poor illumination as the root cause of up to 20% of  falls. 

Photo from tadwa.org.au

Bathrooms and Toilets

When nature calls throughout the night it’s easy to get disorientated, it’s dark, you’re half asleep, toilets and bathrooms can be modified to help you stay safe

  • Place a nightlight in the toilet and bathroom to illuminate the walking path and avoid trips or bumps in the dark.
  • Change a step-in shower threshold to roll-in access by using access ramps.
  • Install rails to help you get into and out of the shower or bath and on and off the toilet
  • Change an older, pre-code shower valve to a pressure-balanced, anti-scald model.
  • Consider installing two shower heads in a shower used by more than one person, so that one showerhead will always be in a seated user position.
  • Consider one of the newer medicine cabinets with cooling capacity for medications requiring refrigeration.
  • Change at least one vanity to a lower-height, roll-under model for a wheelchair user. Round the corners on all countertops to minimize impact injuries.
  • Maximize the color contrast between vanity cabinets and countertops.

Kitchens

As we get older the kitchen can become harder to navigate, we stop cooking and lose out on important nutrition (not to mention the simple pleasure of a nice meal).

  • Roll-out shelves to pantries and base cabinets can make life so much easier, they give you access and visibility. If you are like me,  who knows what is in the back of the pantry! A lazy susan or swing-out shelf is ideal for the hard-to-reach base corner cabinets.
  • Replace knob-style cabinet hardware and faucets with lever-style handles as they are easy to open .
  • If the kitchen is large enough to accommodate a table, add one to allow a wheelchair or walker user to help with meal preparation.  
  • Long-term and costlier solutions include  remodelling the kitchen with wider work aisles for wheelchair or scooter transit, lowered prep areas, accessible storage and optimal appliance positioning.
  • Replace existing appliances with those that are more accessible and safer to use than traditional versions. Examples include side-opening wall ovens, induction cooktops, ventilation hoods with relocatable control panels, drawer dishwashers, microwave drawers and double-drawer refrigerators.

Cleaning and Laundry

  • Buy a rolling laundry trolley to transport clothing to and from laundry room
  • Apply many of the ideas from accessing kitchen cupboards
  • Invest an a robot vacuum
  • Buy a bottle and glass washer which is mounted on a suction base to hold unit to the sink bottom
  • Get a wheelchair friendly closeline or a portable floor rack that can be easily folded away when not in use. This way you don’t need to struggle to reach the outdoor line to hang heavy wet clothes and linen

Independent Living Summary

Modifications to your home with assist you to live independently in your own home and community. The perfect team to help you retrofit your home is you, your family,  an occupational therapist, your home care coordinator and a qualified tradesperson. 

Together you can increase your independence and safety, so that you can delay or avoid the need for hospital stays or the move to residential care !

TADWA and ILC are some independent living product providers of in Perth.

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