Your home is your castle. But, as we age, different considerations emerge regarding our living environments, so those “castles” need to evolve to meet changing needs. While it's important to be able to embrace independence, make sure it is not at the expense of safety.
There is a lot you can do for yourself or your loved one to make home safer. These factors are especially important for people moving into an assisted living residence. There are also special concerns for those with memory impairment, which we cover below.
Areas to Target and What To Do
Taking the time now to make these adjustments will help you live more comfortably. Some are very easy to implement, such as selecting the right type of furniture, changing the layout of various rooms, swapping out lighting fixtures, employing decorating tips, updating home goods, and decluttering.
Others take more planning, such as installing new flooring, upgrading bathroom fixtures including the tub or shower, and swapping out appliances.
Learn more about designing for seniors.
General Living Space
This is where you spend most of your waking hours inside the home and where you entertain. Make this space cozy, welcoming, and easy to navigate. Here are some pointers:
- Choose wooden tabletops with round edges rather than sharp edges to prevent injury.
- Avoid glass tabletops which reflect light and can be difficult to see.
- Provide seating for guests including places to play games or set a drink, to encourage socialization.
- Hang family photos and artwork to remove tabletop clutter; place those items at eye level on the wall.
- Choose sofas and side chairs that are comfortable but not too soft or deep. Make sure the seating options have enough structure in the back, as well as armrests for strong support, to assist with sitting and standing.
- If desired, install grab bars on the walls next to the couch or chair where you or your loved one likes to sit to make standing up easier.
- Create a clean, simple furniture arrangement that is both easy to navigate and keep clear of clutter.
- Arrange the room to easily accommodate a walker, if necessary. According to the National Association of Home Builders, a five-foot by five-foot clear space in the middle of the living room is a good idea; that leaves enough room to navigate a wheelchair and turn around with a walker.
- To keep your layout simple and efficient, hold on to only those things you need.
Kitchens are often a focal point of a home and key for entertaining. Keep this room fun to be in and functional.
- Install lever-style faucets; they're good looking and easier to operate.
- Store sharp objects, such as knives, in a rack—not a drawer.
- Choose a side-by-side or drawer-style refrigerator.
- Place lighting over the sink, stove, and other work areas.
- Be sure stove controls are easy to see.
- Invest in softer flooring to be gentler on the joints and make standing more comfortable.
Bathrooms are necessary rooms in any home. Make sure everything is easy to use, easy to find, and slip-resistant.
- Use non-slip rugs.
- Replace any slick floor tiles with a slip-resistant option such as textured vinyl flooring.
- Consider a hands-free toilet for automatic flushing.
- For adults with limited mobility, look into a “comfort height” toilet.
Tub and shower
- Place non-skid surfaces on the bottom of the tub or shower.
- Consider a walk-in or no-threshold shower to eliminate the need to step over the tub to get in the enclosure.
- Securely install bath aids such as railings and grab bars to facilitate balance.
- Install permanent or foldable seats or benches.
- Use a shower caddy to make toiletries more accessible.
- Install an adjustable, hand-held showerhead for better maneuverability.
Your bedroom is your sanctuary—the place where you can comfortably relax, unwind, and sleep.
- Consider an electric, adjustable bed if you or your loved one needs help getting safely in and out of bed.
- Install easily accessible dimmers on bedside lamps for a greater convenience turning lights on and off.
- Improve access to plugs by using a power strip or a nightstand with connectors on its top.
- Maximize closet space and provide easy access to a variety of personal belongings by installing a closet organizing system.
- Use adjustable and/or low rods and shelves.
- Consider pull-out or pull-down shelves, or drawers designed to close automatically.
- Add lighting.
- Place a sturdy chair in or near the closet for sitting while dressing.
- Get rid of any throw rugs or mats and replace flooring with soft, plush carpet that's easier on the joints. This will keep the room warmer and provide friction to prevent falls.
As you are working on updating your living space to make it safer, here are some recommendations which apply throughout your home.
- Buy touch control lamps or ClapperÒdevices for lights and electronics.
- Always use lampshades (no bare bulbs) to reduce glare.
- Replace traditional toggle-style light switches with larger, easier-to-use, rocker-style light switches.
- Remove electrical cords from walking areas.
- Tuck loose cords behind furniture to avoid tripping over them.
- Use cord covers.
- Keep your space clean and clutter-free, especially where you walk.
- Toss out old medicines and newspapers, and file your bills. A dust-free, organized space looks and feels great!
- If keeping your balance is an issue, place furnishings so you can reach them for assistance if needed.
- Ensure all stair rails are sturdy.
- Don’t use scatter rugs—they are trip hazards for everyone.
- Round edges are safer than sharp corners for all furniture and home decorating items.
- Use a front-loading washer.
- Place the washer and dryer at reachable heights.
- Make sure shelves and work surfaces are installed at comfortable levels.
- Replace round doorknobs with easier-to-use, lever-style door handles.
- Place a chair or table near the entrance door for placing packages while you lock or unlock the door.
Get more information about design tips for safety.
Memory Care Tips
When faced with the added challenge of memory issues, thoughtful interior design suggestions can help make a space easier to navigate, more comfortable, and safer.
General living area
- Layer sofa and chairs with pillows and throws of different textures that appeal to the touch.
- Avoid shiny floors to reduce glare.
- Place automatic, light-sensor night-lights in hallways and rooms.
- Consider using a toilet seat in a color other than white.
- Use contrasting colors to more easily find items, including towels.
- Use contrasting colors for sheets, blankets, and bedspreads.
- Add color or pillows with textures to contrast the headboard from the wall.
- Use nightlights all around the room to show the pathway to the kitchen and bathroom.
Downsizing and Donations
As you work to update your home, you most likely will be sorting through a lot of items accumulated over the course of time.
Remember, letting go of “stuff” acquired over the years sounds difficult, but feels liberating. Most of us own lots of items we haven’t paid any attention to in years—or decades—so don’t let your attachment to things overwhelm you. Sorting through your possessions is a process that brings memories of our pasts while helping us define what’s most important now.
Here are some ways to make the sorting and selection process easier:
- Enlist relatives or friends to help make decisions.
- Keep only clothes, shoes, and accessories that flatter you; donate or toss out the rest.
- Offer items to your family members and friends now—it’s gratifying and practical.
- Know that everyone has junk; use a service like 1-800-GOT-JUNK to take it all away.
- Donate what’s not needed or wanted to charities—you’ll feel great as you help others.
Here are some organizations that are always looking for donations:
Big Brothers, Big Sisters
Household Goods Recycling of MA
Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
The Salvation Army
Vietnam Vets of America
Get a good start on maximizing the safety and comfort of your home by following these tips. If you or a loved one is aging in place, know there are other options to consider, especially if isolation, depression or loneliness are problems. A variety of senior living arrangements support independence while delivering many other benefits including more social opportunities, fun activities, and prepared meals for when you don't feel like cooking. People often thrive there.
SALMON Health and Retirement offers many levels of service in their full “continuum of care” and is here if you need us. Call us toll-free at (800) 446-8060 if you have any questions.
Organizations such as SALMON Health and Retirement are ready and able to offer assistance so your loved one can have their best life possible, even as their needs increase. SALMON Health and Retirement provides a full spectrum of senior living choices and helps support your caregiving efforts. To learn more about the options available to you and your loved ones, contact us today by calling 888-587-4409 for more information.