Senior-Friendly Home Adaptations

by John Stuck
adaptive_remodeling_mnIf after reading our blog post, 5 Housing Options for Seniors: the Advantages and Disadvantages, you’re considering the Aging in Place or Living With Family options, you may need to make some home adaptions to keep your senior loved one safe in their (or your) Minnesota home. As we mentioned, home modifications can be expensive but armed with expert advice, a solid plan and a clear vision that both you and the senior share, the experience can be positive. Most importantly, you will be rewarded with a sense of safety and security.

Research conducted by Home Instead, Inc.  provides a compelling look at senior home safety. The survey of ER doctors, seniors and adult children reveals that home isn’t always the safe haven that seniors and their loved ones dream about.  100% of ER doctors in the U.S. and Canada say it’s very important for adult children to perform a safety check of their aging parents’ homes once every year. But in the last year, only 44% (41% in Canada) have done this. Watch the Aging in Place video shown on our Housing Options blog post for some special considerations. To help families reduce the risk of injury in a senior’s home, we’re offering a free home safety checklist, an online safety assessment and recommendations for inexpensive modifications that could ensure the safety of older loved ones as part of the organization’s Making Home Safer for SeniorsSM program. To request a free home safety checklist and other materials, please call us at 763-544-5988 or fill out our contact form.

To gather this important information, we worked with specialists such as Dan Bawden, a remodeling contractor and the founder of the Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) program for the National Association of Home Builders. He offers some concerns for bringing your senior loved one into your home, along with affordable and easy fixes. (Prices are “typical” but may vary somewhat by geographical area.) Click here to download this information, print and share with a senior.

Comfort and Safety: Senior-Friendly Homes
Security Osteoporosis changes the height of some seniors, making it difficult for them to look through a door’s peephole. The Fix Add an additional, lower peephole to your front door at a cost of about $40.
Glare Glare from windows in a living or family room also can be a problem for seniors, whose eyes are more sensitive. The Fix Mini, micro or Venetian blinds can be purchased for as low as $35 to $50 and installed for about $35.
Inadequate Storage Wonder what to do with all of your elderly loved one’s possessions when they move in with you? The Fix Turn your attic into a storeroom for your senior’s possessions by installing 3/4 inch plywood sheets to your attic floor beams. Use screws, not nails, so they can be removed to get to wiring and plumbing in the future. Cost for a 150 square foot storage platform: $900.
Falls Seniors may be vulnerable to falls, particularly on or near stairs. The Fix Remove area rugs on and near the top and bottom of stairs. Make sure railings are on both sides of the stairs. Cost to add railings on one side: between $200 and $300.
Lighting Macular Degeneration and other eye issues can make older adults susceptible to vision problems. The Fix Recessed lighting — four lights placed about four feet from the corners of the ceiling — provides excellent bedroom light for older adults. Cost installed: about $150 per light fixture or $600 for a bedroom. Remodeling using contrasting colors (e.g. on stairs) can help with depth perception.
Tripping Changes in floor height between a hallway and bedroom door entry can be a tripping hazard. The Fix A wood transition strip can be installed to even out the difference. Cost? About $100.
Burns Older adults with mobility issues can be vulnerable to cooking accidents. The Fix Ovens on the market now open from the side, making it easier for someone in a wheelchair or with a walker. Cost: between $800 and $1,000.
Scalding Hot water from older faucets and valves in the shower and tub could scald a senior with neuropathy. Too cold and it can startle a senior, leading to a fall or other injury. The Fix A device in newer faucets controls the temperature and equalizes pressure when someone is showering and another family member flushes the toilet. Cost to replace older faucets and valves: about $500. Add another $500 if tile work and repairs are needed.
Slick Surfaces Bathrooms are the most dangerous rooms in the house because of slick surfaces that can contribute to falls. The Fix Install grab bars. Very attractive decorative grab bars are available at home improvement stores for about $50-$75 each. Cost to install, including the bar, about $200.
Arthritis Older adults with arthritis often cannot open round door knobs. The Fix Put lever handles on interior doors and in and out of the house. If you don’t want to replace the entire door knob, lever door knob adapters cost around $20 and can be purchased at online specialty equipment companies.
Entry Hazards Seniors coming to the front door with groceries or other packages may be at risk of dropping their merchandise or, even worse, falling. The Fix Family members or a contractor can construct a shelf on the outside of the house on which to set keys and packages. Shelves and brackets can be purchased at home improvement stores. Cost for materials and installation, $75.
Kitchen Faucet Navigating a kitchen faucet and separate spray hose can be difficult for some seniors. The Fix Kitchen faucets may be replaced with an all-in-one faucet and spray hose for easier use. A soap dispenser can then be placed in the hole that once held the spray hose. Cost for the improvement, about $350.
Kitchen Tasks Kneading bread and other kitchen tasks that might require sitting are more difficult for seniors in wheelchairs. The Fix A rolling island can be safer and more convenient. Cost: about $500.
Carpets Thick family room carpet can be a safety hazard for some seniors. The Fix A low-pile commercial grade carpet is cheaper than conventional carpet, is easier to keep clean and safer for walkers and wheelchairs. Cost: about $20 per square yard; half the cost of regular carpet and pad.
Doors Hinged closet doors may be more difficult for seniors to navigate around and take up more space. The Fix Replace hinged closet doors with bi-fold doors that fold back onto the wall for full access, and add a light to the closet; for an estimated cost of $500.
911 Emergency Could your senior loved one get help fast in an emergency if he or she were home alone? The Fix A telephone is available that prompts the numbers plaque on your house to flash when a caller dials 911 so the ambulance can more easily locate the house. Cost: about $450.

5 Fixes Under $500

In addition, Bawden offers the following safety suggestions for budget-conscious families.

  1. Replace wall-mount shower heads with handheld shower heads on a hose.
    Handheld shower heads are both convenient and safe because a senior can use the device as a fixed shower head – adjustable to the proper height – or convert it to a handheld one.
    Cost: generally less than $100. With a plumber’s help, could be up to $175 to $200.
  2. Install grab bars on the wall near the shower or tub.
    Seniors who become unsteady on their feet or start to have balance problems could be tempted to grab on to a towel bar or shower curtain and put themselves at risk of falls. Head to a big box store or super center.
    Cost: typically $30 to $60 for a good quality bar. With a pro’s help, an estimated $175 to $200 per bar for parts and labor.
  3. Convert to lever handle faucets.
    Water flow and temperature could be easier for arthritic fingers to control with a lever faucet, rather than one that twists on and off.
    Cost: usually between $170 and $250. Add about $150 to $200 for a plumber to install.
  4. Add lighting to closets and pantries.
    Dark closets could not only be safety hazards, they could make dressing more difficult for seniors.
    Cost: With attic access, a qualified electrician could install a light for around $250. Cost to add a battery-operated light: typically less than $25.
  5. Add swing clear hinges.
    Narrow doorways could be difficult for walkers and wheelchairs to navigate. Replacing standard hinges with “swing clear hinges” allows the door to swing completely clear of the door opening. This can add an extra 1.5 to 2” of clearance without widening the doorway.
    Cost of a handyman or trim carpenter: about $150. A pair of these hinges generally costs between $20 and $30.

Note: Estimates shown are U.S. only. Costs may differ in Canada. Contact a local Home Instead Senior Care franchise office in Canada for more information.

Many issues could impact an older adult’s ability to remain at home, including the effects of aging on the senses. Don’t shy away from talking with an aging parent about sensitive issues such as home safety.

A little extra help at home could be just what an older adult needs to stay safe. In fact, doctors estimate that 61% of seniors in the U.S. (66% in Canada) who come to the emergency room could benefit from more help at home.

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