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Adapting Homes to Seniors’ Changing Needs

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More Canadians are choosing to “age in place.” That is, they opt to stay in their homes rather than move to alternative retirement settings.

But that often means they must modify their homes so it’s not a danger to their safety and health when their physical abilities change.

A new career field has risen to address this need: the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), a program of the National Association of Home Builders (www.nahb.org). CAPS certified specialists assess homes to identify and recommend modifications to prevent injuries from falls and other risks.

According Veteran Affairs Canada,one third of Canadians age 65 and over fall each year. Veteran Affairs Canada adds that environmental factors lead to about half of all falls that occur at home. These include slipping and tripping hazards, poor lighting, or lack of needed modifications, such as bathroom grab bars, handicapped showers, stair railings and ramps. (For more information see the Veteran Affairs website on their falls prevention initiative: http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca/clients/sub.cfm?source=health/fallsp).

Home modifications help seniors maintain quality of life because they prevent injuries and loss of independence from early admission to an assisted living or long-term care facility.

Following are examples of commonly-recommended modifications for senior homes:

  • Install grab bars for toilets and tubs and install a walk-in tub and/or tub seat
  • Remove unnecessary throw rugs and fasten down rugs or floor runners to prevent slipping
  • Move furniture to create clear walking paths
  • Keep objects off the floor and coil or secure cords to the wall to prevent tripping
  • Replace knobs with lever door handles
  • Apply non-slip tape on uncarpeted indoor and outdoor steps
  • Replace standard light switches with rocker-style switches
  • Increase the width of doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs, and where possible, lower sinks and countertops
  • Move often-used items to lower cabinets to avoid the need for step stools
  • Repair or replace loose handrails and install adequate lighting in stairways
  • Install an elevator or chair lift
  • Install an elevated dishwasher or one with drawers for easy access
  • Replace old stoves with induction cook tops to help prevent burns
  • Replace ceramic tile floors with hardwood or vinyl for safe standing

Shedding Light on Senior Home Modification

When modifying a home for a senior don’t forget the importance of good lighting. Seniors need two to three times as much light to see as well as younger people.

Good lighting—in the form of natural light—provides seniors advantages besides safety:

  • Sunlight produces a good dose of Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb more calcium to strengthen teeth and bones. Choose window treatments that allow in sunlight, without glare, to enhance the health of seniors, many of whom get outside less than they used to.
  • Daylight also uplifts psychological health. It lessens the energy-zapping effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and other forms of depression.
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