Simple Steps to Stay Independent

Have you taken a good look around your home to see if it will accommodate the changes your body will likely go through as it ages? Have you done a similar scan at the home of an older relative or friend where you might be helping out?
 
Whether you're searching for simple solutions for your own home or that of an older relative, there are creative ways to make any home safer and more comfortable for people of all ages.
 

Vision Solutions

Almost everyone experiences some vision changes by the time they reach age 50. Newspaper print looks too tiny and rooms don't seem bright enough. As we get older, our eye lenses become less flexible and most of us need reading glasses to see small print up close and more light to see better.
 
  • Provide sufficient, even lighting throughout the house.
  • Increase the amount of natural light: Open the blinds and curtains, raise shades, and move large items away from the windows.
  • Control glare throughout the home by selecting matte-finish paint, wallpaper, counter tops and other surface materials.
  • To help objects stand out from their backgrounds and to distinguish between levels, furnishings, and potential safety hazards, use the "contrast principle" where the object you want people to see contrasts with its background.
     

Hearing Solutions

Many of us experience some degree of hearing loss as we get older. Some of it is merely a nuisance – we might find it hard to hear certain tones or to hold a conversation in a noisy room.But hearing problems can go beyond annoying and venture into dangerous if, for example, we can't hear a smoke alarm.
 
  • To absorb noise and reduce echo, use carpeting, upholstered furniture and fabric window treatments instead of hard surfaces such as wood or tile.
  • Hang a textured, acoustical wall covering where appropriate (e.g., over a desk or work area in the kitchen) to help absorb sound.
  • Place chairs three to six feet apart and facing each other to facilitate conversation
     

Mobility & Balance Solutions

Knee and back injuries are fairly common, and as we age, the chances of having an injury or ailment that affects our ability to get around increases. For instance, arthritis may cause stiffness and pain that can make walking for long distances or grasping objects difficult.
 
Compounding the mobility problem is the fact that health problems or medication side effects may impair sense of balance.
 
  • Many accidents occur on stairs, when people lose their balance or fail to recognize the last step or two. In addition to assuring there is sufficient lighting, install handrails on both sides.
  • Install the bathroom vanity at a "back saver" height – 36" instead of the standard 32" – to reduce the need for excessive bending at the sink.
  • Avoid using throw rugs, a source of slips, trips and falls. If throw rugs must be used, secure them with double-sided carpet tape, self-stick carpet mesh, or sprays.
     

Memory Solutions

As we age, many of us find it takes a little longer to remember things, but for some people more severe memory problems may be a sign of a cognitive impairment such as dementia. Dementia is the loss of thinking, memory and reasoning skills to the point where it seriously affects someone's ability to carry out daily activities.
 
Note: Because the progression of dementia is unique for each individual, caregivers should make adjustments to the home that are tailored to their loved one's specific needs and adapt those changes over time, as needed.
 
  • Help your family member find kitchen items more easily by attaching pictures showing a cabinet's contents to the front of the cabinet door.
  • Use automatic shut-off devices for appliances like irons, toaster ovens and coffeemakers.
  • Use night lights in hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms to prevent accidents and reduce disorientation – especially if the person has a tendency to wander.
     

Home Design Checklist

Use this handy room-by-room checklist to identify ways to improve the comfort, convenience and safety of your home or that of your loved one.
 
For more than 200 design and product ideas to enhance your home and lifestyle, download or order your free copy of Simple Solutions: Practical Ideas and Products to Enhance Independent Living.