The United States population is aging. According to the US Census Bureau, there will be:
- 50 million Baby Boomers over the age of 65 by 2019.
- The oldest old – those 85+ will number 85 million by 2020.
- The number of oldest old will double again by 2040 as Baby Boomers hit that age.
The majority of these seniors want to age in place. They do not want to leave their homes and move into assisted living or skilled nursing facilities. They want to remain in the privacy of their home because it is comfortable and familiar to them.
Aging in place certainly has many benefits.
It can help to maintain a senior’s good health and sense of wellness. It can also make it easy for them to remain active and social with friends and neighbors. However, the home must be made safe and adapted to the specific needs of the senior for aging in place to be successful. Here are some of the most important home alterations that should be made.
Falls prevention: The most important adjustments that should be made in the home are the ones that prevent falls. Falls pose a serious risk to a senior’s independence. They are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries. Each year more than one-third of seniors (aged 65+) fall and once a senior falls, the risk of future falls increases two or threefold.
Adaptations to the home to prevent falls include the following:
- Remove all throw rugs.
- Move all lamp cords away from traffic patterns.
- Remove piles of clutter, boots and shoes from the floor.
- Make sure the senior has non-slip surfaces on the soles of shoes and slippers and does not walk around the house barefoot or in stocking feet.
- Install railings by the toilet and bathtub.
- If the senior has balance issues, install a high toilet seat with handrails and purchase a shower chair to prevent slips and falls.
Good lighting: Good lighting serves many purposes, including falls prevention. Make sure the house is well lit at all door and entryways and in all rooms. A senior’s eyesight may fail and make it difficult to determine the edges of stairs or changes in floor surfaces. Shadows created by poor lighting will exacerbate those problems. You can improve lighting in the following ways.
- Make sure every light fixture inside and outside the home has the highest watt bulb allowed.
- Light interior and exterior stairs well.
- Ensure that light fixtures are within easy reach of the senior when sitting down or lying in bed.
- Light switches should be located at the top and bottom of all stairs.
- Make sure exterior stairs are brightly lit.
Ask for expert help
A geriatric care manager can help you conduct a home assessment for safety. He or she is trained in conducting an inventory of the senior’s home and listing what adaptations need to be made to improve safety for the senior’s specific needs and lighting. Care managers also have a wide network of community resources. They know how to enlist help and find financial assistance for the adjustments necessary to make the home safe for aging in place.
As a geriatric care manager assesses the home, he or she may also discover things that might adversely impact the senior’s ability to age in place. For example, they may see signs that the senior isn’t eating properly or taking medication properly. The care manager can help the family find resources to support the senior each day to make sure their health is maintained and that he or she can successfully age in place.