9 smart ways to make a home safer for your ageing parents
Just under 20 percent of Australian households are multi-generational, with three or more generations living together under one roof. And as the population ages (the percentage of people in Australia aged 65 and over is around 16%), that number will grow. If you’re dealing with an ageing parent, keeping them in their home or moving them into your own can be the most convenient way to go. But you may need to make some changes for safety’s sake.
Updating the lighting in your home is one very simple way to make it safer and more comfortable for your ageing parent. Add nightlights in the bedroom, bathroom and hallways for safety. Then make sure there is appropriate, bright task lighting wherever your parent needs it: near her reading chair, for example, or in the kitchen. And if possible (you may have to bring in an electrician), make sure controls for the lights, thermostat and so on are easy to reach and use.
Ideally, you would have a step-free entry into your shower stall and a bench inside for seating. “We recently built a custom shower for a client, and the biggest reason for doing it was to add a built-in bench,” says builder Nate Bruen. If that kind of renovation isn’t in the cards, a free-standing shower seat is a budget-friendly option. Grab bars are essential when caring for ageing parents, especially if they will need to step up into the shower or bathtub.
Grab bars are also a must near the toilet, as ageing legs and knees may have difficulty sitting down and standing up from the seat. Adding a raised toilet seat can also be helpful. Another senior-friendly option is a two-level vanity, with a lower portion for use when seated. Finally, reversing the hinges on the door so it opens out, instead of in, gives everyone in your family more space to move around in a bathroom’s smaller footprint. Keep the bathroom free of clutter, too.
Bruen says he has been installing more touchless taps for his customers. These allow ageing parents to turn on the water with a wave or tap, instead of having to grip a tap handle. And you can retrofit almost any toilet to flush with the wave of a hand, too. Not only is this more sanitary, it means older family members don’t have to lean over to flush the toilet manually.
Especially if you’re dealing with ageing parents who use wheelchairs, you will need doorways that are at least 820mm wide, the standard width in Australia (although 865m is even better) and hallways measuring 1066mm wide or wider. Remember that even if you are not facing mobility issues now, you might in the future, so being prepared is helpful. Doorway thresholds can be a tripping hazard, so eliminate those where possible.
If you have area rugs, get rid of them if possible; otherwise, be sure edges are very secure so no one trips on them. Rearrange furniture so that high-traffic areas are clear and there’s plenty of room to move freely.
If your home’s interior doors have doorknobs, consider swapping them out for levers, which are easier for ageing parents to operate. Got a sliding glass door? It may be difficult for an elderly person to open and close due to its weight. Bruen says he fixes this by replacing old sliding doors with newer models, which are made with better, lighter-weight materials.
Will you need to add a ramp to help your ageing parent enter and exit your home? That depends on your parent’s needs and your home’s characteristics. Ideally, you would regrade your home’s exterior to create a step-free entry when caring for ageing parents. This might include a solution like a wraparound deck instead of just a ramp. You can also get a rubber threshold ramp that eases the transition from outdoors to in.
If at all possible, create living spaces for your ageing parent that are all on a single level, so Mum or Dad does not have to climb any stairs. This might mean converting or adding sleeping and bathroom space on your first floor. A stair lift might also be an option, but make sure your relatives feel comfortable with it first. It is not worth the expense and hassle of installation if they are afraid to use it. Another option is an internal lift, if your home layout allows for it.
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