Ways to make the home easier for mobility impaired seniors
Our home should be a relaxing environment
Arrange the home to make life easier
Reorganise the furniture
The way furniture is set out in a home might make sense to us in our 50s and 60s, but become impractical as we age. For example, an arm chair placed at the opposite end of the living room to the door out to the kitchen or bathroom may present a hazard if walking or assisted movement is slow. When nature calls, or indeed a dish is ready, this extra distance can become a bigger hassle than it needs to be.
What many elderly households may benefit from is a proper audit of the furniture they have in the home to determine how much of it is necessary (taking into account the family and other guests they may host).
There may be some furniture that needs to be removed – and replaced with a more practical solution such as a couch or arm chair with a higher base and thus more conducive to sitting and standing by the user with reduced personal mobility at play.
How to place items around the home
Bring everything within reach
We think nothing of storing items in top cupboards, in the attic, under the sink or out in a shed as adults. But when we hit an age or level of physical condition that makes movements like bending, stretching or reaching a painful experience, decisions on where to store items becomes a much bigger consideration.
You may wish to get some help from a family member or friend to do this reorganisation, especially if it requires lifting of multiple objects at a time.
Each room will have different objects and shelves or cupboards available. Working with the rule of being within reach with minimal exertion, you should find that daily life requires far less of the tricky (or sometimes impossible) bends and stretches.
Consider updating the lighting to brighter fixtures and bulbs
Lighting is an underrated component of making a home safe for an elderly individual or couple. Many homes have out of date lighting and bulbs that are simply too dim to provide ample light coverage in all parts of the room.
Modern light fixtures not only provide a better, more consistent light source, they typically last for longer than an old incandescent style bulb fixture. However – if you or your loved one suffers from eye strain or medical conditions where flickering light could cause an issue, you may want to speak with your OT or doctor first as LED lights have been reported to cause eye strain in some cases. Compact fluorescent lights are another option to look at.
Note, you should speak to a qualified electrician who can both consult on the lighting options as well as make wiring changes to accommodate new fixtures and install the lights too. And your doctor should be able to provide guidance as to what option might suit you if you do suffer from eye-related conditions.
Getting in and out should be safe and easy
Remove barriers to entry and exit of the home
Being able to access your home quickly and simply might sound like a given, but for many homes a physical impairment can make this very difficult. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a doormat or ornament can be a tripping or slipping hazard to an elderly person without full vision or control over their mobility.
Any objects on the floor by exits (such as a laundry basket by a back door) could be a safety risk to a quick exit.
Simplify the most important areas
Reduce moving distance between bedroom, lounge and bathroom
While movement is important to keep blood flow and serve as exercise, long distances around the house can be a headache for elderly occupants where they’re ability to move quickly is greatly reduced. The three key rooms for ‘living’ are the lounge, bedroom and bathroom. You may wish to swap rooms and bathroom so that the time to access the bathroom is shorter from both bed and the lounge.
An occupational therapist will help you plan out the configuration of the house, and may engage with your family members to help move this around to suit a more hassle-free set up.
Remove obstacles and create more open spaces in the home
Open spaces in a home that accommodates mobility impaired residents is absolutely crucial. The floor should be completely free of unnecessary obstacles like ornaments, stands, extraneous tables and loose items like books or bags. This is because with a physical impairment, our ability to react and adjust to tripping is compromised. But the other reason, which is just as important, is the matter of assistive equipment and carer assistance.
In a room that’s cramped with objects and little clear floor space, a walker, wheelchair or bathroom transfer system can get caught up and be difficult to manoeuvre. A carer also requires ample clear room around a bed, chair or other furniture to safely and carefully transfer their client into assistive equipment.
Part of preparing the home for a mobility impaired elderly person is going to require family members to help transform them into somewhat of a minimalist – at least visibly. Anything precious that needs to be kept can be done so by storing safely in a cupboard, or held by a family member offsite.
Use “Smart Home” products to reduce mobility demands
Introduce smart home functionality or automation
Installing a smart home panel and connecting various home fixtures and appliances can be an absolute game-changer for a senior who struggles to keep on top of all the functions of the home each day.
Home automation takes some of the daily tasks out of your hands and simply makes adjustments as necessary. These can always be overridden manually but for some of the home admin tasks like closing curtains, switching lights on and off, and maintaining a certain comfortable temperature, this automation can be a huge help.
Smart homes can even consist of ‘smart’ appliances like modern ovens that can be controlled over WiFi with an app. Imagine being able to preheat the oven and turn it off once your meal is cooked, without having to physically make the walk each time. Some ovens even have a camera built in – although you’ll need a certain budget to get something like this.
At the very least, smart home control over curtains, blinds, temperature and lights takes a physical load off – which at the end of the day can be more than welcome!
Use bathroom mobility systems to reduce daily risks
Invest in a bathroom mobility system
The bathroom needs to be carefully prepared to properly accommodate someone with poor mobility due to the slipping hazards and transfer difficulties that are present. However, transferring between a toilet, bathtub or shower and out of the bathroom doesn’t actually need to be a hazardous process that puts you or your carer at risk.
A bathroom transfer system will allow you to remain comfortably seated before entering the bathroom then be simply shifted between the different bathroom fixtures all the while in the transfer chair.
If you want to learn more about bathroom mobility systems, head over to our range page where you can learn about the different options to suit different bathrooms.
More information about this topic:
You can find useful information about this topic across the web via the following excellent online resources:
- How to Make a Home Safe for Your Aging Parent – AARP
- Tip Sheet: Home Safety Tips For Older Adults – HealthinAging.org
- Home Safety for Seniors—What You Should Know – This Old House
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