The word environment usually produces images of the great outdoors, but let’s take it a step further and consider our personal environment, especially as baby boomers age in place or mom and dad move in with their children. The space needs to be both safe and comforting.
As we age, the risk of falling increases dramatically. To reduce this risk, create a safe environment that is free of clutter by keeping walkways clear. Remove items such as throw rugs and electrical cords which are trip hazards. Rounded corners on furniture are best to minimize injury should a fall occur. Make sure the furniture has sturdy arms that will assist in standing.
Keep the interior rooms well lit to compensate for reduced visual acuity. Paint the walls a bright cheerful color. Replace wall switches with the rocker style that are easier to operate. Grabbing and twisting the standard round door knobs is very difficult for someone with arthritic hands. Instead install the lever style knobs that can be pushed down to open the door.
In the kitchen, if the person is still preparing meals, place pots, pans, dishes and other items at waist level to keep from having to reach or bend down to retrieve the items. Both actions are a risk for loosing ones balance and falling. Having the microwave installed above the stove, as many homes do have, creates more counter space. But having to reach for the items can be hazardous for an elder by either losing their balance and potentially falling or spilling hot food on themselves causing burns. To prevent this, place a microwave on the counter within easy reach.
The bathroom is often considered the most dangerous room in the home for an elder. The combination of water and slick floor surfaces is a disaster waiting to happen. To reduce the risk of injury from a fall, place a non-slip mat in the shower stall and just outside the shower if the flooring is tile. Use a shower bench and hand held shower to make showering safer. Have grab bars installed in both the shower and toilet areas to provide security when using these areas. Although they make grab bars that can be held in place with suction cups, I recommend the bars that are permanently affixed to the walls. Using a professional installer is also recommended. Install a raised toilet seat to make its use easier. If there are no grab bars that are within reach, consider attaching a seat that has arms on each side to assist with sitting and standing.
If you are having an elder loved one moving in with you, make sure they bring items that they treasure and provide them comfort, such as a favorite chair or things that have sentimental value, even if this means having to move or store some of your belongings.
Helping to create the personal space environment that is both safe and comforting for an aging loved one is very rewarding. Be creative and have fun doing so.