September 16, 2013 — By Angelo DiGangi
As we get older tasks that used to be done without a second thought now require a bit more effort. Luckily, there are some easy do-it-yourself tweaks that baby boomers can use to make our homes safer and more accessible as we age and physical abilities change.
This article will explore some of the easier projects that incorporate the principles of universal design, which means designing the space for accessibility to everyone, regardless of physical abilities.
Baby boomers will be able to live longer in their homes longer if they are on one level instead of multi-level. Climbing steps might be good exercise, but they can be an insurmountable obstacle if you unexpectedly lose your mobility.
Consider purchasing lever style handles instead of door knobs to make your life easier. So instead of putting down the groceries to enter you can just use your elbow. Or, if you develop arthritis, you have the ability to open the door. Likewise, light switches should be simple and easy to push — opt for the big switch type rather than the traditional small switch, or better yet, use motion-sensitive switches.
One never knows when you or a family member might be confined to a wheelchair. So make sure works spaces like counters and shelves are low and accessible.
Now let’s get into specifics about how to make each area of your home more accommodating:
Entrances and Exits
The gateway to our homes should be inviting and accessible. Here are some ways to accomplish both.
Regardless of your age, having a small spot to rest bags of groceries or packages while you unlock the door is helpful.
A simple, waist-high table at the entrance to your home provides a place to put things like flowers that can make your entryway more attractive.
Rugs can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, they are an easy way to cover slippery hardwood floors. On the other hand, rugs that aren’t properly stabilized can exacerbate the problem.
For heavy traffic areas, a thick rug with a sturdy rubber anti-slip bottom can make for a safer walking path, minimizing slips and falls.
If you fall in love with a rug without an anti-slip bottom, don’t fret. A quality rug-pad will perform the same function.
Heavy and hard to slide glass sliding doors can be problematic for achy joints and arthritic hands. Further complicating things is the fact that the handles are often small and difficult to grab.
Add Some Rope: Believe it or not, simply tying a bit of rope around the handle can make even the most obstinate sliding doors easier to open and close. You can create a loop or single strand: use whichever works better.
Straighten Up and Lower Things
Our garages are often cluttered and dangerous with many objects to trip over, sharp edges that can cut, and unevenly stacked boxes that can topple over without warning.
Eliminate the Clutter: For many of us, it’s no longer safe to go vaulting over a long-broken lawn mower to get to our garden sheers. So get rid of the non-essentials. Chances are you have lots of stuff serving no purpose other than giving you stitches, broken bones or worse.
Take Everything Down a Notch, Literally: Once you’ve gotten organized, two rules should dictate all further action in your garage:
If you need a ladder to reach something, it’s too high. Move it lower.
Make sure essentials are within arm’s reach.
Eliminate Slippery Surfaces: Bathrooms are potential danger spots. We spend so much time in them that wet, slippery tile and porcelain surfaces are accidents waiting to happen.
Use Mats and Rugs: Not just bathmats. This is another great spot for rugs with non-slip bottoms. And while it may seem like a no-brainer, if you don’t already have a non-slip mat (also called tub treads) inside your shower, spend $15 and make your shower much safer.
Shower Rails: Quick and easy to install, shower rails are an easy way to make showers safer.
Toilet area. Consider switching your toilet out for a taller model. Much easier to get on and off, while reducing the chance of a fall. Grab bars nearby make life easier and safer.
Lazy Susans for Cabinets, Countertops, and Refrigerators
Lazy Susans eliminate the need for stepstools and time spent on tippy toes straining for things just out of reach. We know they’re handy in cabinets and on counter-tops, but have you ever considered putting one in your refrigerator? You’ll be amazed how well it works.
Bedroom. If you going to undertake one remodeling job it probably should be to convert one of your downstairs rooms to a master bedroom. You will enjoy the convenience and be well prepared for aging in place. Make sure you can access it without having to go up a step.
Having a small rolling cart in your kitchen not only literally takes care of the heavy lifting, but can also make serving guests and setting the table both easier and faster. They can carry everything from plates to covered dishes to pitchers.
Good-quality kitchen carts can be attractive additions to many kitchens. Several have tops that double as cutting boards and many carts are constructed of stained wood and can have features such as drawers and cabinets.
Rolling carts range in price from $40 and way up from there, but an attractive one of decent quality can be purchased for about $100.
Why not make your life easier and smarter
Sometimes we assume that everything must be harder as we age. This doesn’t have to be the case if you take advantage of products new and old designed for smarter living. Your home is your domain, and it should work for you, not against you.
Comments: What products or improvements have you made in your home to make it easier to live in? Please share your ideas in the Comments section below. Angelo DiGangi, a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago suburbs, is a frequent contributor on bathroom decor for Home Depot’s website. Angelo also answers homeowners DIY questions on the Home Depot website.
About the Author:
Angelo DiGangi, a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago suburbs, is a frequent contributor on bathroom decor for Home Depot’s website. Angelo also answers homeowners DIY questions on the Home Depot website.
For further reading
Baby Boomers Should Plan Now to Avoid Outgrowing Their Homes