Independent living tends to be the preferred choice for older Americans, topping other options like assisted living and nursing home care. Among adults age 50 or older, 77 percent wish to remain in their home as long as possible, according to a 2018 survey by AARP.
Yet independent living can present unforeseen risks.
“Because many seniors have lived in their homes for a long time, they have a false sense of security,” says Jesse Neumann, a home medical equipment expert and owner of Corner Home Medical in Minnesota.
Taking the time to make low-cost home modifications to a senior’s living space now can create a comfortable environment for years to come.
Try these strategies to help your loved one age in place.
1. Clear the Way
Falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related death among adults age 65 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Area rugs can quickly catch passing feet and bulky furniture often makes it hard to move around. Replace any slippery rugs with rubber-backed non-slip floor mats. If there are chairs or tables in a sitting room that aren’t used, put them in storage or give them to a different family member.
2. Store Clutter
Too much memorabilia on shelves is often hard to keep clean. Go through each room of the home and look for ways to minimize the materials.
If the senior is up to it, go through items together and decide what to keep. Then put several keepsakes on display and pack the rest in boxes. Add labels and store them in an area with controlled climate to keep items in good condition.
3. Safeguard Bathrooms
The most common place for a fall to occur in the home is the bathroom, according to research at PubMed Central.
Start by checking the height of the toilet and sides of the tube.
“You can add a raised toilet seat if it is too low or a tub transfer seat to help seniors get into the tub if it’s too high,” Neumann says.
Add grab bars and handrails around the shower, bathtub and toilet.
4. Create a Downstairs Bedroom
Elderly people with joint pain or arthritis could find relief from avoiding the stairs in their home.
If there is an unused room on the first floor of the home, such as an office or sitting room, turn it into a bedroom for your loved one. Include a bed that has a rail to make it easier for the senior to get in and out of it.
5. Set up a Medical Alert System
A safety device your senior wears could make it easier to receive medical care in an emergency. Some alert systems also detect falls. Talk to your loved one’s physician to evaluate health care needs and choose the right type of device.
6. Make Hallways and Stairs Safer
Ensure there are sturdy handrails in the halls throughout the home. Also look at the railings on the stairways.
“If possible, extend the rails beyond the top and bottom steps,” Neumann says.
7. Install a Security System
“Seniors are often worried about crime and the potential for a break-in,” says Lynell Ross, a health and wellness coach and the founder of Zivadream.
Adding a security system can help ease a senior’s anxiety. The extra layer of protection may bring peace of mind to other family members concerned about the senior remaining in his or her own home.
8. Bring in Help
If your loved one isn’t able to carry out daily activities such as bathing or cooking, home care professionals can help. Consider having a home health aide come in the morning and again in the evening. This will allow your senior to receive help getting dressed for the day and settling in for the night.
You can also ask for relatives to serve as family caregivers. Some may be able to do lawn work on the weekends, while others could take the senior to the grocery store.
9. Schedule Excursions
Many cities provide day care facilities for seniors. Some retirement communities offer regular social events like concerts and game nights to keep seniors active.
If your loved one needs help getting to appointments, some areas provide public transportation especially for older people.
10. Get Your Loved One a Pet
A dog that needs to be walked every day could lead to more exercise for older adults. The responsibility of feeding and caring for an animal can enhance an individual’s well-being and quality of life.
“Having a purpose provides seniors with motivation, improves their health and can increase their lifespan,” Ross says.