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How to Help Your Aging Parents Stay Safe At Home How to Help Your Aging Parents Stay Safe At Home
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How to Help Your Aging Parents Stay Safe at Home

Insights & Ideas Team •  December 9, 2014 | Home and Family

Nearly 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their own homes as they age, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. But as people get older, that becomes increasingly difficult. In the next 12 months, more than one in three people age 65 or older will fall, according to the National Institutes for Health and CDC. A new movement aims to help you keep your parents safe in their homes as they age. It’s called aging in place.

Aging-in-place strategies can make seniors’ homes safer, more comfortable and more adaptable to their changing ability to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as preparing a meal, bathing or using the bathroom independently.

Aging-in-place adaptations can be made to accommodate a wheelchair, walker or other type of disability aid and still maintain the resale value—or even enhance the value—of the home. Changes can be as simple as installing a railing on both sides of every stairway or as elaborate as a first-floor addition with a bedroom and accessible bath.

According to the National Association of Builders, aging-in-place adaptations are the fastest-growing segment of the residential remodeling industry. The professional group now offers the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation program. Interested builders and remodelers take courses, such as Design/Build Solutions for Aging and Accessibility, and learn about products, materials and adaptations that make a home accessible for someone who uses a wheelchair or has mobility issues.

Steve Hage is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist and the owner of Strategies for Independent Living, a Washington, D.C. area design/build/remodeling firm. Hage suggests adult children begin by proactively addressing the hazards around the home that can increase the risk of falls or other injury:

  • Install good lighting inside and outside the home.
  • Remove worn carpeting or area rugs that can trip an older person or snag a cane or walker.
  • Secure steps and install handrails on both sides.
  • Install lever handles on all doors and faucets.
  • Install grab bars in the bathroom and showers.
  • Set the water heater at 120 degrees or lower.

Making home improvements before an accident or illness occurs is ideal, but Hage often gets referrals from rehabilitation facilities after the fact. “People may be recovering from an injury or illness or have a chronic illness like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, and they have specific requirements for coming home.” The greatest number of requests he receives involve “getting in and out of the house and using the bathroom.”

When approaching a new project, Hage conducts a thorough assessment of the property and sometimes works with an occupational therapist to get a personal assessment of the homeowners, measuring their strength, balance and ability to perform their ADLs. The key is to provide personalized recommendations that are respectful of the residents’ attitudes toward the change.

“They already feel bad that their life is changing, and now people are taking over their house and making changes,” he notes. He gets the whole family involved in the process and educates them on the wide variety of solutions they might consider, such as:

  • Entrance ramps or new steps that are less than six inches apart.
  • Wheelchair lifts and stair lifts.
  • Curbless showers and shower seats.
  • Wider doorways and roll-under counters and vanities that accommodate wheelchairs.
  • Electric switch and plug height adjustments.
  • Comfort height toilets for easier transfers.
  • Pull-down shelving and lazy Susans in cabinets for easier access.

“Our goal is to make the house accessible without making it look like a hospital,” says Hage. He tries to anticipate a senior’s changing needs but also keep the house attractive and practical for resale. Recently, Hage removed a tub and enlarged a bathroom to create a modern, open-concept tile shower with no curves or bumps. “The husband is safe and comfortable using it in a wheelchair, and the wife loves how it looks,” he adds.

If you’re thinking about aging-in-place remodeling, the National Association of Builders has a Find a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist search engine on its website to help you locate someone in your area. Also, find out if your parents are eligible for funding to help them make home improvements that sustain their independence. Your local Department on Aging may have information on sources for accessibility modification grants.

Finally, when weighing the costs of aging in place, consider the benefits of letting your parents stay in the home they love in a familiar neighborhood. Being surrounded by neighbors of all ages can do wonders for their attitude and well-being—and your peace of mind.

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