Aging in Place: Staying Safe at Home

July 08, 2014

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Be it humble or haute, there’s no place like home. A home is a sanctuary filled with history and memories. A home provides just about everything, from shelter to solace. If a home provides even a fraction of those things, it often becomes the ultimate object of affection.

Many people find that as they age, their homes also become a symbol of their independence. That’s probably why – according to a 2011 AARP study – 90 percent of adults over 65 want to remain in their homes as long as possible. Seniors’ determination to remain independent, and in their homes, is a factor in an expanding cultural shift called aging in place.

Challenges of aging in place

According to ageinplace.com, there were 35 million Americans over the age of 65 in the year 2000. The website also notes that the Census Bureau projects a population of 71.5 million Americans over age 65 – nearly 20 percent of the entire U.S. population – in 2030.

Right now, millions of seniors want to avoid taking up residence in assisted living facilities, nursing homes and retirement communities. But there are myriad challenges to aging in place, including individual financial circumstances, health issues and living arrangements.

Many seniors also discover that the homes they don’t want to leave are full of obstacles that thwart their independence. A few dangers, notes aginginplace.com, are:

  • Entering and exiting the home.
  • Going up and down stairs.
  • Staying safe in the bathroom.

Technology to the rescue

When it comes to aging in place, a digital safety net can be a blessing. Nextavenue.org notes two devices. One of the most well-known tech tools is the Personal Emergency Response Systems, or PERS. These pendant-style, push-button devices have been around for years, but they’re now equipped with more sophisticated sensors designed not just to detect falls but avoid them by detecting obstacles and changes in walking patterns. Other pendants can be worn with outdoor wear, providing an emergency aid for seniors engaging in exercise.

Some home-monitoring systems now use technology similar to that of the XBox Kinect gaming system to detect changes in activity, and problems with gait and falls. These systems can also alert adult loved ones and 911 in case of an emergency.

Steps to safely age in place

Consider these safety trouble spots and Consumer Reports’ suggestions for resolving them:

  • Ground-floor sleeping space. Adding a first-floor bedroom and bath. A more cost-effective option might be converting a den into a bedroom and expanding the ground-floor powder room into a full bath.
  • Bathroom safety features. Replace the tub with a roomy shower that has no threshold to step over. Add grab bars and a shower seat. Install a “comfort height” toilet seat, 2 inches taller than usual, that’s easier to get off of.
  • Lever-type doorknobs and faucet handles. They’re easier to turn for people with stiff or weak hands and arms.
  • Chairlift. If your stairs are wide enough (37 inches is the recommended minimum) you can install an electric chairlift.

Sure, there are challenges related to remaining at home as the years pass by. But there’s never been a better time for seniors to age gracefully – and safely – in place.

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