On Friday of last week, my mom broke her hip at home. She was home alone when it happened and was not near a phone. This is an incredibly painful and scary experience as she described it. I am equally worried about her return home this week as she lives in a post WWII brick ranch home with narrow doors and hallway. This home is not designed for someone with mobility issues and will make her life and recovery more difficult. So here are some things that might make life easier for her and my dad.
Getting into the house
If you have steps into your home, a no-step entry solution makes daily life easier. In an existing home, this usually means a ramp to the door. The ramp, if at all possible, should not be on the front of the house, should have direct no-step access to the driveway, and should not exceed a 1″ to 12″ slope. There should be a 5′ turning radius level platform outside the entry door and a handrail on at least one side of the ramp. The ramp should have a minimum of 36″ clear space from the inside of rail to the opposing side of the ramp rail.
Technology is flooding the market that will make aging-in-place easier. An interesting system I just learned about recently is called Live!y. Remember the “help, I have fallen and cannot get up” commercials. This is the latest technological solution for personal emergency response. It certainly seems to have promise.
There are also apps available for your smart phone that can detect a potential fall and send an alert. Both of these solutions work great, but only if you have the device with you at the time of the fall.
The main solution needed in a kitchen is room to maneuver. If possible, a roll under sink, lowered counter, pot filler at the stove, and a flexible faucet add to the functionality of the space. However, in small ranch style homes, the kitchens are tiny. Keeping the floor clear of rugs, dog dishes, and furniture will be key to making the space safe and usable.
The bathroom is a dangerous place. There are slick floors, small spaces, and hard surfaces that get in the way of another fall. Some changes that might make it an easier space to use include a comfort height toilet that is a little higher than a standard height making standing up easier. A roll under sink would be a nice addition as well as a roll in shower. If you have the time and money a larger bathroom with a 5′ turning radius would be very nice, however in these ranch style homes that is a difficult request. These are all major changes which may not be possible. A less permanent change would include a bathtub transfer bench and raised toilet seat. You might also consider installation of grab bars around the toilet and in the shower for added security. They don’t have to look institutional anymore as many companies have developed grab bars that look like soap dishes and towel bars.
In the category of “if we knew now what we did not know then” design can solve many of these problems up front. If you have features incorporated into your home design that make the home safer for a lifetime, then fewer modifications will be needed after an accident. The problem is much of our housing stock in this country is built without design. Making your home a lifetime home can make your life easier and your home sustainable.
What changes have you made to your home to make it last a lifetime? What products make life at home easier for you?