Basic home updates help loved ones age in place

Adding a shower bench and grab bars in the bathroom makes bathing easier as people age.

STILLWATER – Home sweet home. It’s where people feel the most comfortable. However, as Oklahomans age, their homes may require modifications to ensure residents’ safety.

“Aging in place really goes beyond just aging – it also could be a person who simply has difficulty getting around,” said Scott Frazier, Oklahoma State University Extension energy management specialist and associate professor in the OSU Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. “This is important especially in rural areas where assisted living options aren’t available.”

Some projects that can increase the safety factor may take just a few hours, while others may involve a contractor.

One way to make the home more livable and safer for aging occupants is to install grab bars in high-risk areas where a slip or fall is more likely.

“Just a little bit of water on a tile or linoleum bathroom floor can be dangerous. Bathtubs and showers also can become slick with soapy water,” he said. “If there’s enough room, consider using a shower seat. Coupled with a hand-held shower head, this adds more stability for bathing.”

Other options include installing a grab bar near the toilet for people who may have trouble sitting and standing back up and putting another bar near the bed for similar reasons.

When installing grab bars, make sure they are screwed into wall studs, not just drywall. These bars are inexpensive and can be found at local hardware stores or ordered online through a variety of ability stores.

Outdoor ramps can be useful beyond wheelchair mobility needs. Steps can become quite a challenge for people on their feet as well.

“People with mobility issues can have difficulty lifting their legs to navigate porch stairs. A ramp makes it easier to enter and leave the home,” Frazier said. “Remember, the ramps also need banisters or handrails. Something else to consider is a threshold ramp for doorways to provide a smooth surface transition from one room to the next.”

Other home improvement tips to help with aging in place include:

• Replace round doorknobs with lever-style handles.

• Install a bathroom heater/lamp for seniors who develop aching joints or body heat regulation challenges.

• Update flooring. Carpet can be a major source of trips and falls. It’s also easier to maneuver a wheelchair on a solid-surface floor.

• Add bright lighting and solid railings on each side of a staircase. A stair lift also may be a solution.

• Install a swivel turntable, or lazy Susan, in a cabinet to keep contents organized and easy to access.

• Add a kitchen island or prep table at a comfortable height.

• Attach wall hooks to make things easier to reach.

• Consider slide-out shelving, which is more accessible than cabinets that require crouching or bending.

“Making just a few changes can help your loved ones stay in their home longer, which is where they’re the happiest,” Frazier said.

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