IF we're all being honest, owning a home or having a roof over our heads is pretty high on our to-do list. How many times have you joking told your children — "You better not put me in a nursing home when I'm older" or "I want to live in my house until I die"? These are great thoughts — who wouldn't love being in the comfort of their own home, or as experts call it "age in place"?
Here's some food for thought: When was the last time you sat down and really thought about the space you're living in and how conducive it will be for you as you get older? My guess would be maybe once or twice, if at all. Don't worry, if you haven't given it much thought you aren't alone. One of the main objectives of this article is to get those wheels turning in your head.
We can never be too certain if any disease or illness will affect us as we get older. A good place to start is by taking a look at your family history. Are there any trends? Meaning, history of stroke, arthritis, dementia, etc. Or have you been diagnosed or put on watch for any chronic illnesses? You might be wondering — what does that have to do with my home environment? A lot! For example, people with rheumatoid arthritis may find it difficult to grip, making door knobs that much harder to open. A better alternative would be to use door handles with levers.
In this article I'll share with you an abbreviated checklist of things you may want to take into consideration as you analyse your living space, especially if your plan is to live in your home as you get older.
The overall floor plan
First things first. Having all the major or most used spaces on the same floor is definitely a plus in the event that climbing the stairs becomes difficult. You want to ensure that at least a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen are all on the main level. If you have a single-level home, then you won't have to worry about this.
Does your entryway have good natural and or artificial lighting? A well-lit entry will lessen the likelihood of stumbles and/or falls because of poor judgement. Try to limit the amount of steps. Ramps make entering much more accessible whether you require a wheelchair or not.
Hallways, if present, should be wide enough to facilitate a wheelchair. Again, try to get in as much natural light as possible. If the area still seems poorly lit, there are many artificial lighting options available. Keep in mind also that switches should be at a comfortable height making them more accessible to persons in a wheelchair. Using motion-censor lights are also another great option.
It is recommended that countertops be 36 inches or three feet from the floor, which will make it more accessible for everyone. Using contrasting colours for backsplash and or countertops will not only add some character to your space, but will also provide benefits for the visually impaired.
Think non-slip, non-reflecting. Consider tiles that have a matte finish or other slip-resistant surfaces. Limit the number of rugs and mats throughout your space — these may become hazardous. Run cables and wires along the wall, keeping the floor free from obstructions.
Showers are more convenient than bathtubs. Non-slip tiles are non-negotiable; install grab bars/rails. Removable shower heads with hose and high toilets are some things to keep in mind for this space.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and is very general in nature. Always consult with an expert who is equipped with the skill sets to make the right recommendations for you, your family and your space. Ageing in place is not impossible; it just takes a little help.
Dr Raejean Porter, DPT is a geriatric physiotherapist and geriatric home modification specialist. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org