5 inexpensive ways to elder proof your home

February 3, 2011

Germaine Levesque (L) lays a plate on her kitchen table in Canada while her husband, Edmond Levesque (R) eats his soup across the international border in the United States of America on the other side of the table, in the town of Estcourt, Maine on March 27, 2006. REUTERS/STR NewAmerica’s largest generation is approaching its twilight years. The oldest baby boomer turned 65 on Jan.1, and every day for the next 19 years, another 10,000 boomers will enter into the traditional retirement age bracket, according to data  from the Pew Research Center.

“If you think about who boomers are as a generation, they’ve redefined every space they’ve entered. We know from all indications that they’re going to redefine what it means to age, what it means to grow older,” says Jodi Olshevski, a gerontologist and head of The Hartford Advance 50 Team.

The country’s largest cohort will be faced with a number of later-life planning issues: When to give up driving? Should I try to remain in my home or transition to assisted living? If you’re a boomer concerned with aging in place, it’s time to make your home safe for seniors.

Planning for your golden years now, before an accident happens, will likely allow for more independence as you age. One-in-three adults aged 65 and older falls every year, making falls the leading cause of injury death among seniors, according to research published by the Center for Disease Control.

“Every dollar spent on prevention equals about seven dollars spent on treatment,” says Peter Schroeder, who co-founded the website Elder Proof Home after he became his father’s live-in caretaker four years ago. “Denial or procrastination has no place in this world. You have to pay attention. You have to be proactive and think ahead.”Tucker Watkins is pictured in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Handout

Retrofitting will not only make your home safer, but it may save you money over the long haul compared to assisted-living communities or a nursing home. “The up-front cost may be a lot of money but that has to be weighed against what would it cost if you had to go into an assisted-living facility, which may cost $4,000 to $5,000 a month,” says Tucker Watkins, an Ameriprise Wealth Management adviser. “If the cost of retrofitting a house is $20,000, that might just represent four to five months in an assisted living facility.”

Living on a fixed income and concerned about financing a major overhaul to your home? If a senior is covered by long-term care insurance and files a claim due to such conditions as a stroke, accident or old-age frailty, the cost of retrofitting a home may be reimbursed by their policy, says Watkins. Boomers can also explore home-equity lines of credit or reverse mortgages should long-term care insurance not be an option.

If major renovations aren’t necessary, or affordable, here are some tips from Schroeder’s soon-to-be released ebook “Stay Independent” on how to make your home senior-safe without breaking the bank.

Railings and bars
Bathroom safety is crucial for seniors. The combination of water and slippery surfaces can spell a world of hurt. “If a person needs support on their balance or they find themselves losing their balance, they might well reach for the towel bar which will come off the wall with them as they fall down,” Schroeder warns. Replace the towel bar in your bathroom with a weight-bearing handrail or a grab bar, which can be purchased for under $20 a piece.

Watch for trip hazards
Remove all area rugs and foot stools from your home to keep trip hazards to a minimum. Keep items off the floor in hallways and entryways to ensure smooth room-to-room transitions. Be sure to tuck away electrical cords. Threshold ramps are very important because bumpy thresholds can make people trip. They run the gamut in terms of price. Check out discount suppliers like discountramps.com if you want to keep costs low.

Remove locks
Remove doorknobs with built-in locking mechanisms, commonly found in bathrooms and bedrooms, to ensure you won’t be inadvertently trapped. Instead, install lever-style door handles, which can be purchased for as low as $7.95.

Revamp slippery surfaces
Bathroom and kitchen floors can be as slippery as a skating rink when traipsing through your home in sock feet. Schroeder suggests installing no-skid treatments in high-traffic areas to ensure stable footing. And don’t forget about the bathtub or shower. Elder Proof Home offers non-skid shower mats for as low as $15.85.

Stay fit!
Sure, being an active ager has nothing to do with your home, but the more on-the-move you are, the better your chances of reducing injury. Sign up for a senior yoga class, spearhead a walking group in your neighborhood or join a local gym that specializes in keeping seniors active. Not only will you look great and feel physically fit, there is no denying the mood-lifting benefits of endorphins.

5 comments

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Thank you for the article. I would add or expand on some of your suggestions. Under “revamp slippery surfaces” it is never advisable for seniors to walk around in stocking feet. It is always best to wear shoes, closed toed, non slip on type in the home to prevent slips and falls.
Under “watch for trip hazards” I always advise clients to pay attention to how a person makes their way to and from places to sit in the home. If a coffee table is too close to your favorite loveseat and you are forced to have limited maneuverability and an unsteady posture as you make your way to sit, this can result in a fall or a fall onto a table or other furniture resulting in even greater injury.
Does your favorite seat have firm support and sturdy arms to support you when you sit or stand?
It’s always important to think about what you do and how you do it. Look for small changes that can be made to make doing what you want to do easier and safer.

Ronnie Molles, Certified Aging in Place Specialist
President, Molles Life Services, LLC

Posted by RonnieMolles1 | Report as abusive

Excellent article. Aging in Place can ensure the quality of like for our aging population. Taking steps to keep them safe and secure can ensure peace of mind for us as loved ones and caregivers. It is unfortunate that most people don’t consider the long term care of their loved one until an event, like a fall with injury occurs. Proactively elder proofing is critical. There are also technologies that can be deployed which can monitor for changes in behavior and wellness that add significant value to those who wish to remain in their own homes. Sit down with your aging loved one and have an open discussion about long term care. Being proactive will lead to a better result for all involved.

Ed Caracappa President & CEO AtGuardianAngel, Inc.
www.atguardianangel.com
www.issueswithaging.com

Posted by EdCaracappa | Report as abusive

This article is so helpful in outlining how to start making your home safe for seniors. As a social worker I talk to seniors everyday who wish they had started their planning sooner. Let’s be honest though- it can be hard and scary to admit that it’s time to prepare your home for aging! But where do you turn? I suggest reaching out to someone like your physician for a referral to a social worker or giving Care.com a call at 877-922-7314 where there are social workers available to talk.

Sincerely,
Mary
Care.com

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I think if I am living with elderly people who are at risk of falling, I would definitely takes steps to protect them the way I would protect children. Edges of furniture should be cushioned if possible, and I would place carpets as much as possible to avoid slippery floors. No expense shall be spared for my parents.

Posted by DavidDoors | Report as abusive

Very helpful but I also want to mention elder proofing the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Make sure that only the items the senior needs are within reach and honestly, don’t put anything that “might” interest them on the next closest shelf. You don’t want them putting the hand cream in their dentures, for example.

Posted by MacKasey | Report as abusive