There’s No Place Like a Safe and Accessible Home

Senior Citizen’s Guide to Northeast New Jersey

2009 Summer/Fall Edition

As the American baby boomers approach retirement they are faced with many difficult housing decisions. Do I remain living in the 50 year old Victorian home I have raised my family in and grown so fond of? Will the 3 flights of stairs, dimly lit corridors, tiny poorly designed bathrooms, and hazardous door thresholds limit my function or even cause an injury?

Very often when these questions are asked it is from a hospital bed after experiencing a hip fracture or stroke. The family gathers from all over the globe and everyone has an opinion but all are searching for the right answer. Can mom and or dad stay in the house? Is it time for a retirement community with more accessible facilities? or even an assisted living facility or skilled nursing facility? With the guidance of the right professionals a transition back to the existing home can be the right choice.

An occupational therapist is able to analyze all of the activities of daily living that the individuals living in the house will encounter, identify difficulties that their physical or cognitive impairments may cause, and offer solutions to these problems to create a safe and accessible environment. This may entail purchasing common items such as a shower chair, seat-lift chair, or bedrail. Houses with stairs are not necessarily inaccessible or dangerous; they may require installation of secure stair rails or even stair-lifts.

Doorways can be widened to accommodate wheelchairs. Toilets, beds, and furniture can be elevated to ease sit to stand transfers for independence and/or to decrease caregiver strain. Grab bars can be installed to reduce risk of falls. Bathrooms can be modified or even added in locations that are more accessible. Bathtubs can be replaced with walk in showers. The options are endless and readily available.

Bathroom grab bars are crucial. With the collaborative input of an occupational therapist and a skilled building contractor the placement of grab bars will promote the safety and function they are intended for. For example, an individual who has injured their left hand or even has left sided weakness due to a stroke, will not benefit from a grab bar that has been installed on the right side of the shower. However this same grab bar installed on the left side can promote safe and independent bathing. Grab bars come in different lengths and thicknesses.

They are made of various materials, and require many types of installation hardware and techniques that are best left to a building contractor that is familiar with the structure of the home to assure a structurally sound installation. Poorly installed grab bars pose more of a hazard than not having one at all.

Lighting and centrally monitored fire/carbon monoxide and emergency alert devices are crucial elements of a home that are often overlooked. A well lit garage, stairway, or bathroom can prevent a fall over a poorly placed basket of laundry or box of recycled newspapers.

Houses decorated with quaint lamps that require dexterous fingers to hunt through the dark to find the tiny knob to generate light may not be the best source of primary light. A licensed electrical contractor can install electrical outlets for the lamps that are linked to a light switch that is activated by motion.

You walk into the room and the lights go on and the existing lamps that contribute to the character of the house can still be the source of light. Home entrances, garages and basements can also be equipped with motion sensing occupancy lighting that will contribute to a safe transition in and out of the home at night.

Often, relocating can be more costly than adapting the house you have grown to call home. Options such as long term care insurance and reverse mortgages are available and can be discussed with a trusted financial advisor.

As Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz so eloquently stated, “There’s no place like home.”