My mother visited every summer. We modified a step to make it easier to climb. As Mom no longer wanted to sleep upstairs, we made the dining room into a bedroom. We installed a grab bar next to the shower. My mom is gone, but the grab bar is still there. It is our first “aging in place” home modification. Now we are actively looking for home modifications as well.
What are some simple “aging in place” home modifications? Anything that prevents falls and increases mobility. That means grab bars, entrance ramps, removing rugs, moving the bedroom, stair lifts, elevators, shower seats, better lighting, pullout shelves and comfort height toilets.
Nevertheless “simple” is a relative term. Changing out the flooring is easy for a flooring person, but I would not attempt it myself. Home elevators are now affordable to some, but not to others. So take what you can, and improvise the rest.
1. Install Grab Bars
Falling is often the last insult to injury, the final blow before the last trip to the hospital.
Everything we do to prevent falling also prevents pain, rehabilitation, and reduced mobility.
A “grab bar” is a metal bar installed in the wall. When you feel unsteady, you have the option of grabbing the bar for support.
Suppose you felt unsteady in the bathroom. Where would you lean to give yourself a moment to recover?
On the other hand, maybe you have a hard time getting up from a seated position. Wouldn’t it be nice to pull yourself up using a solid, steady object with rounded edges?
That is much better than depending on the granite countertop or toilet paper holder!
We installed our first grab bar next to the downstairs shower. My mother used it to steady herself as she lifted her leg over the bathtub wall.
You can screw a standard grab bar into a wall stud. People usually put them in bathrooms to navigate tubs and toilets.
You can get specialized anchors to make your grab bars strong enough to hold 500 lb. Moen sells a grab bars, for example, that holds 300 lb. as sold. However, if you use their “Secure Mount” anchor, the bar then holds 500 lb.
You can also get a vertical, tension mounted grab bar. You use spring tension to mount a vertical bar, so they can be used anywhere you have a flat ceiling.
2. Install an Entrance Ramp
Have you discovered the power of wheels? As we age, wheels become a huge friend. We use Rollators (walking carts), wheelchairs, and golf carts. We use hand trucks and carts to move stuff. We use garden carts to keep active.
I do not plan to be in a wheelchair. We want to hang onto our health. You can use an entrance ramp for so much more than wheelchair access. Should an operation be in our future, or we have days we need to roll instead of walk, we will thank ourselves for our foresight in building an entrance ramp.
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I researched putting an entrance ramp on our home. This is what I found.
I found ramps built from every sort of material. They come in aluminum, wood, galvanized steel and concrete.
If you are not prepared to build a new entranceway, you can still put a permanent or semi-permanent entrance ramp on your home.
If you hire a contractor, ensure he or she has knowledge of the proper grades for ramps. However, if you buy a ramp, that solution will be built-in to the ramp. You just need to be sure that you do not go flying down a ramp because it is too steep.
Here are two excellent sites to learn more about adding a ramp to your home’s entranceway:
3. Replace Killer Rugs with Non-Slip Flooring
I, too, went through life believing that rugs were innocent friends who protected warm feet from cold floors.
The fact is, rugs kill.
“Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among persons aged ≥65 years,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.
My goal is to avoid the nursing home. That is why you are here too, right?
Then get rid of the rugs in your home.
In 2014, 58% of hospital patients admitted for injuries from falling ended up in nursing homes.
” For people aged 65-84 years, falls are the second leading cause of injury-related death; for those aged 85 years or older, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death,” says the National Floor Safety Institute.
The solutions to killer rugs are non-slip floors and wall-to-wall carpeting.
Some materials are better than others for bathrooms and other wet areas. The fact is, wet floors are slippery. It does not matter what they are made of. If you used rugs to wipe up shower water, you are going to have to start cleaning those water puddles off the floor. Regardless of how “no-slip” that floor is.
Vinyl and linoleum are safest for wet areas. Vinyl is water resistant, but anywhere there is a seam, there is a place for water to seep through to the sub-floor. That is why sheets of linoleum are better than vinyl floor tiles. Luxury vinyl is beautiful. If you get it in a roll, so there are no seams, it is the nicest flooring material, in my opinion.
Wall-to-wall carpet with short fibers (not 1970’s shag threads) is safe as well. As much as I would like to have carpet in my bathroom (to replace the rugs), carpet does not do well in water-y areas. But it carpet pleasant and warm in living areas.
Ceramic tile tend toward being slippery, but there are ways to make it safer. Just be aware that the greater the anti-slip factor of a ceramic tile floor, the harder it will be to clean.
The Ceramic Tile Institute ranks tile into three levels of slipperiness. The Coefficient of Friction (COF) rating measures the floor’s slip-resistance rating.
Slip Resistant tile is the highest ceramic floor COF score. Slip Resistant tile has a rating of .6 or more even when it is wet. Conditionally Slip Resistant tile has a COF score of .5 to .59 when wet. Questionable tile has a score of less than .5.
4. Move the Bedroom to the First Floor
Stairs put a lot of pressure on the knee joints. While climbing stairs is good exercise, we have to balance the needs of the muscles with the demands of the joints.
That is why we made a temporary first floor bedroom for my mother. After years of using our guest room, she just did not want to climb the stairs anymore. We placed curtains over the kitchen and hallway entrances, and replaced the table with a bed.
It is nice to have a ground floor bedroom. It lets you avoid using the stairs when it hurts too much to climb them. The bedroom is closer to the kitchen, when can be convenient.
On the other hand, ground floor bedroom privacy is a little harder to achieve. You need good window treatments for privacy from the outside. If people are moving through the kitchen and common areas, you will need a real door rather than curtains.
Also, remember to consider TV noise from the living room when planning a first floor sleeping area.
When you make a first floor bedroom, you are declaring that the second floor is no longer accessible. Rather than lose all of that living space, use technology to overcome stair-climbing problems.
5. Install a Stair Lift to Stay in a Two-Story Home
Stair lifts are automated chairs that bring you up and down the stairs. They are a nice way to help you age in a two-story home. Rather than putting the bedroom on the first floor, you automate your stair-climbing instead.
A stair lift costs between $2,000 and $12,000 installed. It’s one of those installations best left to professionals.
You will also want a professional to measure the stairway and landings, since not every star lift fits every stairway. You might need one that is slimmer, or that swivels when you get to the top or bottom of the stairs.
Stair lifts have seatbelts for safety. Good ones have battery backups in case the power goes out, so you are not stranded.
If you are going to be laid up for a few months, you can rent a stair lift. The cost is usually between $200 and $500 a month. You can sometimes buy used stair lifts too, which will save you some money.
If you live on a steep location, you can put in an outdoor stair lift. You cannot put an indoor lift outside. That is not going to weather well.
Lift Yourself on a Home Elevator
If you are carrying stuff up and down the stairs, the stair lift is going to limit your options. You can put yourself and anything you can fit on your lap into the stair lift chair.
For serious transportation between floors, you can get a home elevator. Prices range from $10,000 to $40,000 installed.
Home elevators take about a day to install. They should have a battery backup to avoid stranding you between floors.
Home elevators do not have to be large contraptions. When installed in office buildings, elevators require a shaft, a mechanical room, electrical wiring, and a breaker box.
Modern home elevators eliminate this mess. “Machine Room Less” elevators run on standard home power.
Look for safety features in a home elevator. The threshold from the floor to the elevator should be relatively smooth. Look for carpeting or non-slip flooring for safety. Elevator grab bars help you stay steady.
A home elevator should have top and bottom sensors that stop the car if something gets in the way. They should include a phone for emergencies. The home elevator should include a mechanical stopping device that engages should something break.
6. Use a Shower Seat
I find walking easier than standing. Standing just gets the back in a way that walking does not. One place we have to stand is when taking a shower. Unless we install a shower seat.
A shower seat is a simple device that requires no installation. It is a 4-legged stool with rubber feet made from a non-rusting material such as plastic or aluminum.
Put the shower seat under the water spray, sit, and enjoy.
If reaching for soap or shampoo is a problem, get a shower seat with a tote bag or a shelf.
Want more control over the water? Get a seat with a spray head holder.
Need a good surface to push on when getting up? Get a shower seat with side rails.
Need to lean back a bit? Get a chair with a back (as opposed to a stool).
Be aware that a shower seat sits in the shower. If you have a bath-shower combination, it does not help you get in and out. For that, you need a shower transfer seat.
7. Use a Shower Transfer Seat
A shower transfer seat gives you help climbing over the shower-tub wall. Two feet sit on the floor. Two feet sit in the shower. The seat (or bench) on top is your transfer area between the two spaces.
After you get into the shower, you can use the transfer seat as your shower seat. Therefore, you can stay seated as you shower.
A shower transfer set is made of a waterproof material such as plastic or aluminum. Transfer seat feet are usually made of non-slip rubber fashioned into suction cups that grab the floor.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding a highly rated shower transfer bench or seat. I have read many accounts of seats that broke during use.
8. Increase the Lighting
Lighting is not just about seeing well. It is about seeing where you are going, so that you do not fall.
The Lighting Research Center wants to help you to see better at home. They suggest adding light fixtures, and buying light bulbs with higher lumens (brightness) ratings. The smaller the task, the more light you need.
The Research Center instructs us to avoid glare by putting light bulbs out of our line of sight.
Use night lights, glow-in-the-dark switches, and motion-sensor lights to ensure you are never in the dark.
Put more task lamps around your hobby and task areas. Put a reading lamp near your chair and bed. Use full-spectrum lamps in room lights to increase available light and your mood. Use brighter bulbs in central lighting fixtures to cast light throughout the room.
9. Install Pullout Shelves
Also called “rollouts,” pullout shelves turn cabinet shelves into drawers. They allow you to reach items in the backs of shelves.
You can put them under the sink for trash, recycling or cleaning products. Put them in the kitchen to reach your pots and pans. Put them in linen closets to reach towels and sheets.
Rollouts come in pre-fabricated standard sizes. Get tall sides for bigger items, and small sides for smaller items.
There are two ways to install pullout shelves. Plastic is cheaper, ball bearings are higher quality.
Using plastic inserts, the shelves will only pull out 3/4 of the way. The weight limit is limited to about 75 lb.
With ball-bearing shelves, the entire shelf will pull out. The weight capacity on ball-bearing pull out shelves is between 100 and 200 lbs.
10. Install a Comfort Height Toilet
A comfort height toilet is 2 to 3 inches taller than a standard toilet. Therefore, they are 17 to 19 inches high, rather than the standard 14-16 inches high.
The higher seat makes it easier to sit down and get up again. When your knees ache and do not want to bend, the taller seat is your friend.
The comfort height toilet can also help prevent falls, as it leaves less room for mis-steps.
Comfort height toilets range in price from about $250 to $500.