If you or your loved ones are getting to the age where life is a little more difficult, it may be a good time to start thinking about how your home can help you live more safely and comfortably in these later years. This article is aimed at helping you consider a few important details when it comes to home comfort and safety in your home as you age.
The big thing to think about as you age in place is the location of your home. An ideal home for aging in place is in proximity to family, friends, community and health care needs. While most of us are self-reliant throughout our lives, as our bodies age, it’s important to have the support our friends and family to help us with tasks, both small and large. We also tend to spend more time at home as we are older, so the proximity to other people—community—who are doing the same can also be of benefit. There are many neighborhoods and retirement communities in Tacoma, Gig Harbor, and Pierce County that cater to this reality. Consider moving to a 55+ community. Finally, think about where you doctors and other health care needs are located. Are you close enough that it’s a quick drive?
Size, Layout, and Property
While a large home is often beneficial in our younger years, when we are raising families and hosting gatherings, it’s smart to consider downsizing to a smaller home as we age. A smaller home means fewer maintenance tasks and less real estate to manage. Other things that make good living easier in retirement include moving into a single-story home (or "rambler"), so as to avoid the potential treachery of falling on stairs. Finding a property with a level yard/driveway and easy access to and from vehicles is also a good idea. And lastly, a smaller yard and low-maintenance landscaping can help shift your time in retirement from doing laborious yard work, to spending time with your spouse, friends, and community.
Tips for making your home safer and more functional in your later years
The following tips are intended to help you think about what’s important in a home as you shift into your later years and retirement.
Front Entry and Doors
It’s a good idea to install automatic lighting along pathways and entryways so you can more easily see where you are going, and especially during our Pacific Northwest winters. Similarly, consider installing slip-resistant flooring in high-traffic areas and removing bulky floor mats so as to prevent tripping and falling. Finally, consider adding a place to sit down and rest at your front door; a shelf or table near your front door is also a good idea, so you can set down packages while you unlock and open the door. Lastly, consider replacing doorknobs with levers or handles, for easier gripping and opening.
We all spend a lot of time in our kitchens because that’s where the food is! Some tips to make your kitchen more age-friendly, include replacing cabinet knobs with D shaped handles that you can get your fingers around. Other helpful modifications include pullout shelves in lower cabinets and switching to a side-by-side refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom (side-by-side fridges are easier to get into and around than single-door fridges).
When thinking about the bathroom, the big things are safety and function. Ask yourself…. Is your toilet at the correct height? Do you have to step over a threshold (tripping hazard) to get into your shower? Do you have adequate lighting in your bathroom and do you have any lighting in your shower? Other possible improvements include adding a shower seat, adding grab bars around the toilet and shower (yes, they come in colors other than stainless steel!), replacing knobs with lever handles on your sink and faucet, and adding a phone or pre-paid cell phone near the toilet/shower in case of emergency.
A few tips for improving the safety in your bedrooms include reducing or eliminating clutter, improving lighting, and removing potential tripping hazards such as throw rugs.
The laundry room is another oft-used room and there are many ways to make it more functional and safe as we age. For example, installing front-loading washers and dryers makes loading and unloading easier. Other helpful changes include adding lighting behind counters, adding non-slip flooring, removing throw rugs, adding a rolling cart to help with daily tasks, and purchasing a hamper on wheels… all of these can help to create a safer and more functional environment.