Is Your Home Ready For Aging In Place? Ask An Occupational Therapist

For most people, our homes hold many cherished memories and life experiences. For the older population, their home often provides a sense of comfort, security, and independence. Research indicates that more than 77% of older Americans wish to remain in their home and community for as long as possible. 

Is your home currently safe for you or a loved one? And will it continue to match your needs and abilities throughout the aging in place process? 

Many people do not assess the safety of their home until a fall or some type of crisis occurs. A universally designed home or one that has been modified to accommodate the needs of all ages and abilities, can promote independence and allow you or a loved one to happily age in place. 

Aging in place specialists

An occupational therapist will assess the safety of your home and suggest aging in place modifications.

Occupational therapy practitioners are trained professionals who are able to evaluate living environments and provide recommendations for continued independence and safety in the home.

Do you want to age in place? Ask your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist.

Physicians, case managers, and other medical professionals can refer you to occupational therapy practitioners in your area. 

Listed below are possible home safety recommendations to promote aging in place.

Entrances and exits
  • Install handrails on both sides of steps.
  • Install a beveled, no step, no trip threshold. 
  • A contrasting color at the edge of steps will make it easily visible for added safety.
  • Install a bench beside the door to hold packages while opening the door.
  • Increase lighting along pathways and entryways. 
  • Install lever door handles.
Kitchen
  • Increase task lighting at sink, stove, and work areas and use the highest wattage bulb approved for all fixtures. 
  • Add touch and color-contrasted controls for those with low vision.
  • Mount an ABC-rated fire extinguisher in an easy to reach place.
  • Install adjustable, pull-down shelving to increase safe access to upper cabinets.
  • Install pullout shelves under counters and corner lazy susans.
  • Avoid using floor wax and don’t walk on just cleaned floors until they have completely dried.
  • Install C or D-type handles on cabinets and cupboards.
  • Place most used items within reaching distance. 
Steps and stairs
  • Install light switches at top and bottom of stairs. 
  • Install handrails on both sides of stairs.
  • Add non-slip adhesive strips to uncarpeted stair treads.
  • Paint the edge of the steps with a contrasting color.
  • Remove all objects from the stairway.
  • If unable to navigate stairs safely, install a chair lift.
Bathroom
  • To prevent tripping or slipping on bathroom rugs or mats, use only rubber-backed rugs or mats that stay firmly in place or secure them with double-sided rug tape or rubber carpet mesh. 
  • Install a handheld or adjustable showerhead.
  • Set the water heater to 120° to avoid scalding.
  • Install a raised toilet seat with safety railing (if safely standing from the toilet becomes difficult).
  • Install grab bars (preferably two) in the bathtub and shower and at the toilet.
  • Install a shower chair or shower bench in the bathtub or shower.
Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom
  • Use double-sided tape to secure all rugs.
  • Remove all scatter and throw rugs.
  • Rearrange furniture to allow for clear, wide passageways.
  • Install touch control lamps or audio activated devices that turn things on and off.
  • Install night-lights in all areas of night activity.
  • Carry a personal medical alert device or cellphone. 
  • Remove rolling chairs with wheels.
  • Adjust bed height for easy entry and exit from bed.
Fall Prevention
  • If you have difficulty with walking or balance, or have fallen in the past year, talk to your healthcare provider about having a special falls risk assessment.
  • Ask your provider if you would benefit from an exercise program to prevent falls.
  • When walking on smooth floors, wear non-slip footwear, such as slippers with rubber/no-slip bottoms or flat, thin-soled shoes that fit well. 
  • If you have a cane or a walker, use it at all times instead of holding onto walls and furniture.
  • Remove all clutter and throw rugs from living areas.

Community Resources

  • AARP offers publications with information and resources  on home design and modification, home and community livability, falls prevention, and the Fair Housing Act. The AARP website also provides information on home fit guide with ways to make a home comfortable, safe and a great fit for older adults — and people of all ages.
  • Pima Council on Aging: Comprehensive guide to everything PCOA has to offer, including lists of resources in these top 10 categories: Activities for Older Adults, End of Life, Financial, Home Repair, Housing, In-Home Services, Legal Service, Meals and Nutrition, Medical Equipment, and Transportation.
  • Sun Van makes getting around the Tucson area simple for those eligible to ride. Sun Van meets the standards set under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to provide service for those individuals who, because of their disability, are unable to ride Sun Tran.
  • MemoryCare.com provides research-backed resources to guide caregivers and seniors in the early stages of memory impairment through the process of finding and obtaining the care they need.

Jodi Edwards, Occupational Therapist

Guest contributor and Occupational Therapist living in Tucson, Arizona.

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