Ageing, whether we welcome it or not, is a fact of life from which none of us are exempt. Though we as humans tend to feel much younger in mind and spirit than our bodies are, it is important to be realistic about the ageing process and envision the life we want after retirement. The relationship between the financial and emotional value of a home shifts as people age, with an increase in emotional value. While moving into a retirement residence is an excellent option for some, many would prefer to remain in their home – where a lifetime of cherished memories has been created – and adapt it to their changing needs. In Alberta, the Seniors Home Adaptation and Repair Program (SHARP) allows seniors to use their home equity to stay in their homes and maintain their independence via repairs, adaptations, and/or renovations.
For seniors who wish to upgrade their homes, there are a multitude of options available that can accommodate all sorts of budgets, ranging from major structural modifications to simple hardware additions and/or changes.
For many people, increased age often comes with decreased mobility, and the need to use a mobility aid (such as a walker or a wheelchair) can be obstructed by the layout of a residence. Even if the use of a mobility device is not needed, older adults often have a greater risk of falling: falls are the leading cause of injury among older Canadians, with 20-30% of seniors experiencing one or more falls each year. Further, fifty percent of all falls resulting in hospitalization happen at home! Fortunately, there are many options available that can allow seniors to enjoy full movement in their homes with lessened risk to themselves.
1. Widening Doorways and Hallways
Although commercial building code regulations exist to ensure that spaces are accessible for people with different mobility needs, these do not extend to private residences. To accommodate a mobility device, opening up floorspace via widening doorways and hallways is an excellent option.
While a one-storey home would prove most convenient for easy accessibility, the reality is that convenience is a luxury and many people have stairs which they must navigate daily. In some cases, a ramp may be installed to make an area more accessible; but this is not a practical solution for long flights of stairs. There are, however, a great range of modifications that can be made to increase the safety of existing stairways.
Handrails It is important to ensure that there are handrails installed on both sides of the stairs. It is standard for most homes to come with just one rail for stairs; however, it is much safer for older adults to have the stability that comes with a handrail on either side.
Non-Slip Tape Adding non-slip tape to stair treads made from hardwoods or laminates will add traction to the edge of steps, giving seniors more surefootedness and confidence when they plant their feet.
Increased Visibility Other than increasing lighting, or adding motion sensors, stairs can be made more visible by adding reflective strips or by painting the edge of the treads.
Stairlifts and Elevators A stairlift can be a great long-term investment for those who are unable to avoid stairs and have difficulty navigating them. Alternately, if the home is spacious enough to accommodate it, installing a single-person elevator is another option.
The age, type, and quality of flooring in a home can result in harmful slips and trips. Common culprits include:
Uneven Flooring Over years, hard flooring can sometimes settle and become uneven, creating a tripping hazard.
Slippery Flooring Although beautiful, many hardwood, laminate, and tiled floors also come with a higher risk of slipping. Switching to slip-resistant flooring is a safer long-term solution.
Uneven Thresholds The lip of a threshold is a dangerous tripping hazard. Inside the home, the floors should be flush from room to room.
Area Rugs and Runners Area rugs and runners can be treacherous on hard flooring. These should either be permanently secured to the floor, replaced with rubber-backed rugs/runners, or removed completely.
The kitchen is the most-used space in a home, and, along with the bathroom, one of the most dangerous. There are many adjustments that can be made to decrease hazards, and increase comfort and safety.
Countertops Accessibility for those in wheelchairs can be greatly improved by changing counter heights, or by adding multilevel work surfaces so that anyone can have access to whichever height is most convenient for them. Countertops should also have rounded corners and edges, as sharp corners can cause more injuries.
Grab Handles Mounting grab handles along the edge of the countertops can provide extra security in the event of a fall: they are meant to grab hold of in order to prevent or break a fall, rather than a person instinctively grabbing something unsafe for support (e.g. a small appliance such as an electric tea kettle).
Small Appliances Lowering small appliances, such as microwaves and toasters, will make them easier to access.
Dishwasher Switching out a standard dishwasher for an elevated dishwasher will reduce the need to bend over repeatedly while loading or unloading dishes.
Oven and Stove A wall oven is one of the safest and most suitable versions of an oven to have, if a space allows for it. It can be mounted at whatever place and height is most convenient, which greatly decreases not only having to bend over, but also reduces the distance required to lift a piping hot dish from oven to counter. Additionally, a cooktop stove can be a much safer alternative to a conventional range: they cool off more quickly than a typical range, and offer seamless transitions from cooktop to countertop.
Cabinets, Pantries, and Shelves Pull-down and pull-out shelves offer easy access to all the nooks and crannies in low and high up cabinets and pantries, ensuring that items shuffled to the back aren’t left forgotten (and possibly unnecessarily replaced!), or too difficult to easily manoeuvre out. Also, replace any knobs with door pulls for easier grasping.
Sinks & Faucets It is important to consider the depth of the sink: older adults should not have to bend far over to reach the drain. A motorized sink is an excellent choice to accommodate multiple height needs. When considering faucets, installing a hands-free motion sensor faucet is a convenient choice. However, replacing knob-style faucet handles with lever handles and adding pull-out spray faucets are great lower-cost alternatives.
For any person, old or young, the bathroom can be the most dangerous room in their home! There are numerous changes that can be made to ensure easy accessibility and increased safety.
Location, Location, Location! Ideally, for a senior in a multi-storey home, there would be a bathroom on each level. However, as this is not always feasible, the bathroom should at least be located on the most-used level of the home.
Floor Space Wheelchairs require a 5’ turning radius, which for some people will require additional floor space in their bathroom.
Toilet Seat Height Higher toilet seats make it easier to sit and rise. This can be as simple as a raised plastic seat, or a platform which elevates the entire toilet.
Toilet Safety Rails Safety rails installed around the toilet will provide extra stability when sitting and standing, giving seniors increased security in their movement.
Grab Bars Grab bars mounted near the shower/bath will provide a secure handhold and help to prevent unwanted falls.
Walk-in Tubs and Showers Climbing in and out of traditional baths and showers can be a perilous task. While safety can be improved by adding grab bars, some seniors may opt to install a walk-in tub, or a shower with a built-in seat.
Accessible Vanity Lowering the bathroom vanity will allow those with decreased mobility to perform grooming tasks without having to stand.
Bidet It can be easy to take simple hygiene tasks for granted; however, basic functions like bending and twisting to wipe can be more of a struggle for older adults. Installing a bidet can allow seniors to preserve their dignity and independence while maintaining their personal hygiene.
Having the washer and dryer located on the main floor is important for easy access; but if this is not possible, there are other solutions. A dumbwaiter can eliminate the need to struggle up and down stairs with cumbersome loads, or a stairlift can be installed.
Improving the lighting in a home is an important consideration when it comes to ageing in place upgrades, and there are a multitude of choices available to suit all sorts of financial allowances.
Night Lights It is crucial that areas be sufficiently well-lit so that seniors can avoid stumbles and falls after dark. Strategically placed night lights in the home can increase safety on late-night trips to the bathroom or kitchen.
Touch Operated Lamps
These can be a good alternative to pull chains or switch knobs for those with arthritis or weak joints or muscles.
Timed Lights For those who are forgetful, a timed lighting system can ensure that there is always an acceptable level of lighting to suit individual needs.
Light Switches Illuminated, rocker-style switches are easy to see in the dark, and comfortably operated.
Motion Sensors For those who do not wish to have constant illumination from night lights, installing motion sensing light switches to main routes of passage is a perfect alternative.
Mounting Heights Devices such as switches and thermostat controls may need to be lowered in order to be accessible from a seated position.
There are several other changes that can be made to increase comfort and mobility inside & outside the home, including but not limited to:
No Step Entrance A no step entry has zero steps and a minimal threshold, making it an excellent choice for those who have decreased mobility.
Wheelchair Ramp If upgrading to a no step entrance is not viable, building a wheelchair ramp is a good substitute.
Security Poles The installation of floor-to-ceiling security poles at crucial points, such as by the couch or bed, will provide extra support when sitting and standing.
Lever-Style Doorknobs Traditional round doorknobs can be difficult for seniors to grip and operate. Upgrading to lever-style doorknobs throughout the house is a practical choice.
AM I LIMITED TO MOBILITY UPGRADES?
The Seniors Home Adaptation and Repair Program is not limited to upgrades made to improve mobility and accessibility. Numerous other improvements that are reasonably necessary to improve the energy efficiency, maintenance, or structural integrity of a home are eligible and should be considered. Some of these include:
Furnace and hot water tank upgrades
Roof and/or window repairs or replacement
Electrical and plumbing repairs
Chimney repairs or replacement
Garage roof repairs or replacement
Soffit, fascia, and eaves repairs or replacement
WHAT FUTURE DO YOU WANT FOR YOURSELF?
With an elderly population expected to more than double by 2040 in Alberta, it is vital to find alternate solutions to nursing and retirement homes for those who wish to maintain their independence in familiar, treasured surroundings. A phenomenon occurs as humans age, wherein time is perceived to move more quickly as the years go by. With the assistance available from SHARP, the multitude of choices available to suit a spectrum of physical needs and financial resources, and the knowledge that time is the most precious resource we have, now is an excellent time to consider how you plan to move into your golden years. Get in touch with Tara Construction, and we can work with you to determine the best options to suit your requirements and budget as you transition your home to meet your changing needs.