A Safe-House Guide for Caregivers
By Sherri Snelling
If you’re a caregiver, you know how much you worry about home safety for your loved one. One day, you’ll have to deal with your own safety issues. Why not start now? Anyone who’s interested in aging in place should do it. (Aging in place is the term used to describe our desire to stay living in our homes as long and as independently as possible even though we face health challenges and other issues of aging.) Louis Tenenbaum, one of the nation’s most respected CAPS experts (certified aging in place specialists) and the founder of the Aging in Place Institute, took me through a list of safety modifications that are actually beneficial for any age. Here’s what he told me.
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Overall, Keep the Three S's in Mind Safety from falls. As we age, falling becomes a serious health hazard. According to the Centers for Disease Control, two million seniors are treated in emergency rooms every year for falls at home, and falls are the leading cause of injury death among those age 65+. One general tip is to remove any rugs that can easily trip you, especially if you have a cane or wheelchair.
Stretch and strain reduction. Whether in a wheelchair or just having trouble bending or reaching, weneed to have everyday items – from frying pans to toilet tissue – stored at waist level or within very easy reach.
Strength changes. As we age our strength levels change. Louis advises that it is typically easier for us to pull than to push as we get older. Therefore, modifications that accommodate this pull rather than push option is another key to making your house your home for a lifetime.
Click through for Louis's room-by-room breakdown:
Entry to the Home Have a package shelf near the door – a convenient place to set your handbag or a grocery bag to that you can easily find your keys to open the door.
Make sure that there’s a protective covering over the porch, that there’s good lighting near the keyhole and inside the entry. Consider lighted house numbers as well.
If you’d rather avoid front-door steps, consider making your main entrance a side or back door.
Have “On/Off” switches at both ends of a hallway and right outside major rooms leading into a hallway (such as a bedroom). Most homes have switches only at one end of the hallway.
Iif your loved one is in a wheelchair, doorframes can be too small to turn a wheelchair easily into or out of a room. Rather than modify a doorframe you can simply have doors on sliders so there is no obstacle to doors which open in or out (or have the doors swing in instead of out into the hallway to allow for access). Just ensure the handle to slide the door – preferably a lever handle – is sturdy.
Kitchen Typical kitchen counters are 36 inches high (or 38 inches for designer counter tops). Ideally, they should be 34 inches so that you can sit as you chop or mix food.
Outlets are usually located on the back of counters, making them hard to reach. Moving these to the ends of counters or cabinets for easier access helps. That includes the switch for the garbage disposal as well.
Appliances such as ovens should be at lower levels (instead of the higher stacked ovens of some kitchens) and have side doors instead of a heavy door that makes it a burn hazard to lean over to get food out. Stoves should have controls on the front of the stove instead of the top or back. Refrigerator doors can be heavy – side-by-side door models are best.
Store everyday items on middle shelves for easy accessibility. You should also invest in sliding shelves for pantries, storage space and even in the refrigerator.
Stairs While an elevator may be a little pricey for your budget if your loved one has a multi-story home think seriously about popular electronic stair chair lifts, especially if your loved one has bad knees or a heart condition. The cheaper lifts (typically $2,700 - $3,200) drop your loved one on the edge of the top step where falls can happen more easily. Instead, invest more ($6,000 - $9,000) to get a lift that will safely bring your loved one to the top of the stairs or even curve around the stairwell at the top so they are safely in the hallway. You will also need a four-foot width on the stairs to accommodate the lift.
If a lift isn’t necessary, make sure there are hand rails on both sides of the stairwell.
Consider marking (in a fashionable way with designer paint or different wood stains – think Martha Stewart) the rise from the tread so it is easy to see the steps.
Another option is to move your loved one’s bed to the ground floor.
Bathroom Don’t rely on towel bars for balance. Instead, use professional grab bars – both for the towels and inside tubs and showers.
A no-step shower and a shower stool (pictured) make it much easier for your loved one. And change the showerhead and controls so they can be accessed at waist or sitting level . A handheld model is best.
A major consideration is having enough room in the bathroom if two people need to be in there at one time. Whether you are helping your loved one as their caregiver or you have a home health aide or certified nurse assistant who helps with bathing and toileting, you need room for this activity in the bathroom. You’ll probably also want a seat adjuster for the toilet.
Have a door that swings out, not in. If your loved one falls in the bathroom with the door shut, even if help arrives, they may be blocking the door, making it harder to get to them.
Bedroom Purchase a lower-height bed; in fact it would be ideal for lifting in and out of bed to have one at wheelchair height. Install a trapeze pull above the bed so that it is easier to get out of bed.
Keep everyday clothing and shoes at waist level..
Add more outlets to accommodate medical equipment or assistive devices.
Laundry Room and Garage Front-loading washers and dryers are great investments; don’t buy stacked ones that may be hard to reach.
There should be good lighting in the garage, as well as enough room to get a wheelchair in and out of the car or van.
When it comes to modifying your loved one’s home, it may be wise to contract with a CAPS expert (Visit www.nahb.org and put "certified aging in place specialist" in the search box.) Many of the details of making these modifications go beyond the skills of your typical handyman. If your budget cannot accommodate a CAPS expert, there is a non-profit organization, Rebuilding Together (www.rebuildingtogether.org) that has more than 200,000 volunteers in most communities who can make simple modifications for seniors and people with disabilities.
To comment, click here. About the Author
Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance self-care while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is writing a book about celebrities who have been caregivers. It will be published in late 2012 by Balboa Press, a division of Hay House.