How to make homes safer for seniors so they can stay there longer
By SALLY BAHO
OUR HOMES are our sanctuaries. They’re where we relax, have meals, share time with family and enjoy a lifetime of memories. But as years go by, our homes
could become hazardous. “As we age, our vision, balance, and reflexes degrade and our cognition may become impaired, so our judgment isn’t so wonderful.
So, we have an environmental need to simplify and make movement around the home and outside easier and with fewer hazards,” explained John O’Brien, CEO of Central Coast Senior Services. The organization provides personalized services with the mission of allowing elders to live in their own homes as they age, safely and with dignity. People want to stay in their homes as long as possible, so minimizing the risk of mishaps is critical. One example is transitions — those steps between rooms and different floor surfaces, or over raised edges (called curbs) around the shower, that most of us take for granted.
Lewis Builders in Carmel is the only local design/build firm that is a Certified Aging-in- Place Specialist recognized by the National Association of Home Builders. John Lewis, one of the owners, explained, “I was educated to design and build homes to allow people of any accessibility to live independently. What I’m passionate about is prevention.” Lewis’ team goes into people’s homes and does a basic consultation about everyday hazards, transitions, uneven surfaces, poor lighting, etc.
John’s partner, Scott Julian, specializes in equipment for accessibility: wheelchairs, bed lifts, elevators and grab bars, among others. After the initial assessment,
the firm recommends adjustments to make a home the safest place for its occupants. Central Coast Senior Services also provides assessments, reviews and recommendations. The group offers long-term care planning and its employees include personal attendants, social workers and nurses.
“Lighting is very important,” said Lewis. “A lot of old houses have the lights positioned poorly so maybe the light is at your back when you are cooking — using sharp knives or hot pans — so having lights properly installed is important,” explained Lewis. Another quick fix Lewis suggested is installing LED lights, as they last 50 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. This is not only more convenient and economical, but there’s less need to get on ladders to change light bulbs frequently.
O’Brien offers this advice for adult children: “start talking among the siblings about when — not if — Mom or Dad needs help.” If you start to see unexplained bruising, you might hear all kinds of seemingly logical explanations. Sometimes someone will tell you she has never fallen because she catches herself every time. That’s why it’s smart to look out for our beloved elderly as they touch things — wall, chairs — when they walk somewhere. This is to steady themselves, and it’s good, but it may be a sign that it’s time to get rid of those throw rugs, or install another set of railings on the stairs. O’Brien also warned about common chemicals, including caustic materials like bleach.
If not used or cleaned up properly, they could hurt anyone — but the potential is even greater for people with deteriorating eyesight and reflexes.
When someone has fallen, it usually means he has been almost falling for a while, and maybe didn’t want to say anything about it — not only out of embarrassment, but also to avoid troubling his loved ones. And frankly, he’s afraid they will take action that he won’t like — like removing him from his home.
But as Lewis and O’Brien pointed out, that may not be necessary with a few simple changes.
Below is a basic list of things you can do around the house to make it a little safer.
Wear shoes with nonskid soles
• Do not climb on chair or ladders
• Get rid of throw rugs
• Keep electrical cords off walkways
• Make sure your house is well-lighted
• Have grab bars put in the bathtub,shower and toilet areas
• Have handrails installed on both sides of stairways
• Have sidewalks and walkways repaired to ensure even surfaces
• Have a curbless shower installed
If your home needs major re-outfitting or you want a professional opinion, call Lewis Builders or Central Coast Senior Services for an assessment.