Aging in Place Safely
Today, 10,000 Americans will turn 65. Tomorrow, another 10,000 will turn 65. And the day following, another.
As the Baby Boomer generation ages, we will see a shift in the aging population. In 2011, just 13% of Americans were over the age of 65; by the year 2030, all Baby Boomers will be over the age of 65, which will equate to 18% of the total population. With nearly a fifth of the population in the 65+ club, how do we ensure a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment? One that is full of independence and in one’s own home?
Aging in Place
Aging in Place is a relatively new idea defined by the U.S. CDC as one’s ability to remain living in his or her own home or community safely and independently. Comfortably remaining in one’s home must be provided to all individuals regardless of age, income or ability level.
This focus on quality of life ensures individuals are prepared for changes in health and environment so they can continue living a full life in the home of their choice as they age versus focusing on growing old. In fact, 61% of Baby Boomers feel younger than their actual age and despite being retired, don’t consider themselves of the older demographic.
Falls and other accidents are a significant reason why aging adults lose mobility and thus, their independence to age in place. In fact, one-third of all Americans over the age of 65 fall each year with falls being the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in the elderly. Moreover, a majority of these falls occur at home. Fortunately, many of these accidents are preventable through simple improvements to the home rather than having to downsize or move to an assisted living facility.
However, after living in your same home for years and even decades, often occupants become accustomed to the layout and architecture and take for granted some of the dangers that their home may impose, especially as mobility and dexterity decreases.
A small, yet mightily dangerous room is the bathroom. The risk of falling in this environment is exacerbated due to the wet and slippery conditions. Fortunately, there are simple, low-cost solutions that can be incorporated to ensure one’s safety.
Grab bars in the shower and tub area are an easy, economical fix that can save you trouble down the road when trying to catch your balance as well as getting into and out of the tub. If balance is already a concern, look into purchasing a tub chair or bench coupled with a handheld shower hose to facilitate showering while sitting. Grab bars can also be installed near the toilet along with raised toilet seats to facilitate getting up and down. The one product that may seem counterintuitive to your safety is a mat outside the tub. If not properly secured to the floor, it can do more harm than good if it’s the culprit behind causing you to slip and fall. The same goes for mats throughout the home. Be sure to do a quick inventory of all rugs and mats throughout the house; if they aren’t attached securely, get rid of them!
What’s Cookin’, Good Lookin’
The next room that deserves attention is the kitchen. Sure, we’ve all burned ourselves on the stove now and again, but I bet you wouldn’t give it a second thought about the ways a room packed with our favorite foods could trip us.
Unfortunately, we take for granted at a younger age the ability to climb to the higher shelves to reach an ingredient. As a result, make sure to move dishes and ingredients to an accessible height to avoid the need to climb upon a step ladder to reach it. Often, we’re so excited preparing that next meal that we’re rushing back and forth between appliances and cabinets that we lose balance or trip over an open drawer. Taking our time in the kitchen won’t just keep us safer, but it might also make the food taste better!
Take Care on the Stairs
An obstacle that often causes seniors to abruptly move from their home is the stairs. Whether forced due to a fall or the fear itself, many make the transition in retirement to a one-story home or install a bathroom on the first floor as a way to avoid taking the stairs throughout the day. However, often these decisions are made without realizing that there are additional options such as a stairlift that can be installed quickly and without modification to their home while providing a safe and comfortable solution of getting up and down the stairs each day.
Moreover, stairlifts can be installed inside and outside and all types of staircases, including multiple flights. If a washer and dryer is in the basement and your shower is on the second floor, there’s nothing preventing you from moving appliances or having to do a major remodel to continue living safely and independently at home.
The Right Light
It’s no secret that eyesight is one of the first things to worsen as we age. Subsequently, it’s imperative to make sure that seeing our surroundings clearly helps avoid potential tripping hazards, whether that includes installing brighter lights, night lights or additional overhead lights. However, take heed to not install so many lights and lamps that extension cords are now added to your walking path, which invariably will cause a tripping hazard. Similarly, any clutter that may be stacked along the floor should also be picked up as to prevent tripping the home’s occupant.
Aging in place is a very achievable goal for the entire population. Having the ability to remain at home provides independence, dignity and subsequently, longevity in one’s life.
Sources: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2010/12/29/baby-boomers-retire/, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/terminology.htm