Small Renovations That Can Have a Big Effect on Accessibility
Aging in place is a concept that is becoming a big deal. Staying in a home of your choice as you age rather than moving to senior housing, as well as creating spaces that are equally accessible to everyone are helping people enjoy their quality of life. You might have decided to stay in your current home as long as possible, you might have disabled children or friends, or you just might want a home that’s more convenient for you and your family, especially if you have active, injury-prone kids (I know I seemed to constantly have a sprained ankle over some childhood mishap or another). Overhauling a home to be fully handicapped accessible can be expensive, but there are some small, affordable changes you can make so that you, your friends, and family can get the most out of your home.
Improved Handles and Faucets
Standard knobs can be hard to turn, especially for small or arthritic hands. Lever handles on doors and faucets make everything more usable, both for the elderly and the young. Lever handles also allow you to open doors with your elbow if your hands are full. Similarly, pulls are better than knobs on cabinets and drawers. For faucets and showerheads, consider installing anti-scald or thermostatic controls, to keep the water from getting too hot.
Install grab bars alongside the toilet and in a position to assist with getting in and out of the shower or bath, to help with mobility issues and preventing falls. A non-slip bath mat – both inside the tub or shower and just outside of it – will also help keep someone from slipping. Anyone can slip and fall in the bathroom, and these simple fixes can prevent very painful and costly accidents.
Keep walkways well lit with bright lights. Fluorescent and LED bulbs provide more light than older incandescent bulbs, making it easier to see while you navigate. They last longer, too, so you don’t need to replace them as often. Rocker style switches are easier to use than standard toggle-able switches, especially if you have stiff fingers from arthritis. Like lever handles, they can even be used when you have full hands. Motion-sensitive light controls are great for lighting up hallways and rooms as soon as someone enters them, reducing the risk of falling in the dark. Nowadays, you can find affordable plug-in motion sensors for your floor and table lamps. Also, keep walkways free of clutter that someone could trip over, especially long cords.
Install non-slip flooring, especially in the foyer, mudroom, bathroom, and kitchen – anywhere prone to getting wet. Thin carpet can work, though it has its drawbacks. There’s also modern types of vinyl and laminate that are specially made to be non-slip and softer to fall on, alongside more unusual flooring styles, like cork or rubber. Flooring options like tile and natural stone are hard and slippery, so they aren’t usually the best choice if someone in the family is a fall risk. If using tiles, small tiles are less slippery than larger tiles. Try to avoid using area rugs, since it’s fairly easy to trip on the edge of a rug.
Try and leave more space between pieces of furniture, enough that someone with a walker or wheelchair could get through. This also helps a space feel more open and less cluttered and helps with traffic flow when you’re hosting gatherings. A person in a wheelchair will typically need three feet of clearance for movement and a five-foot by five-foot space to turn all the way around, though individual models can vary.
Easy-to-open windows can be a big deal for the elderly. Crank windows are generally among the easiest to open, either as casement or awning windows. Sliding windows are good if someone is mobile but has difficulty with fine motor control. Look for windows with large, easy to grasp hardware. Standard blind cords can also be difficult to operate if someone has trouble with fine motor control, so curtains or shutters might be better for some people.
Handrails along steps help when someone has balance issues or bad knees. Installing a handrail on either side is your best bet for ease of use.
These types of small, affordable improvements can make a dramatic impact on improving the livability of your home, for yourself, your family and your guests. And you never know when you may get hit with a bad sprain or broken wrist, making improved accessibility a real game changer on your road to recovery!