Our mantra has always been that growing old, certainly beats the alternative! Ageing should be a privilege, not something to dread, but it does usually bring with it a few changes that we all need to consider and accommodate when it comes to our homes and living spaces.
If we are lucky, almost everyone will experience an ageing parent at some point. When that time comes where mobility and health impact lifestyle, there are usually a few standard options available:
- Find an aged care facility or retirement home;
- Remodel the current home and living space to adapt to their changing needs; or
- Invite them to come live with you which may mean some home renovations to your property.
Let’s consider options 2 and 3. Both usually involve tackling some very common issues around accessibility, eliminating risks, and perhaps creating privacy zones – whether for multigenerational living or having carers in the home.
Mobility and access
It’s amazing how we look at the built environment differently as soon as someone requires a walking aid or a wheelchair. Doorways which seem so normal, are suddenly too tight; steps that we didn’t give a second thought to becoming a genuine pain point; and floor coverings that seemed completely inconsequential, are now a trip hazard or major fall risk.
You may also be facing the need to relocate bedrooms or living areas so that mum or dad don’t have to climb stairs to the second floor.
Here are some suggestions to consider that may make life just a little bit easier:
- If an option, you may look to widen the doorways to allow for more comfortable access by wheelchair into bedrooms and living areas. A standard wheelchair is 635mm wide, which means a doorway needs to be at least 900m wide to fit a wheelchair through. Where planning ahead, it is worthwhile considering allowing for wider hallways and doorways, to avoid having to remodel down the track. In the meantime, you will be creating a lovely airy and spacious home.
- In wet areas consider installing grab bars by the toilet and in the shower, as well as replacing floor covering with non-slip tiling.
- Think about investing in a wheelchair accessible shower and toilet. If you are going for a new toilet, choose one that is taller than standard; this will make sitting down and getting up so much kinder on the knees and hips.
Support rails come are available in modern finishes
Let’s talk safety
As mobility becomes an issue, communication suddenly comes into stark focus.
- Consider adding more phones, USB charging outlets or power points around the home to make it easier for mum and dad to get to a phone or charge their device without having to bend down low or shimmy in behind the bed to find the PowerPoint.
- Install brighter lightbulbs around the home to increase visibility and avoid dark spots. You may even want to invest in some remote-controlled lighting to make it even easier to control. Ah, and don’t forget to make sure the light switches glow in the dark! Great assistance for anyone with poor eyesight.
- In bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways install motion detector lights for when they want to use the bathroom at night.
- Update gas stoves to electric stoves to help reduce burns and the potential for gas leaks; and on that note, make sure there are fire alarms installed that include lights and sound. This will make it much easier for your mum and dad to notice.
- Avoid any sharp edges wherever you can, including basins, kitchen cabinets and coffee tables.
Let’s talk simple comfort
For anyone suffering from arthritis or chronic pain, it can be the little things that make a difference. Here are some little tricks:
- Install new door handles with a lever to make them easier to open. Round doorknobs are literally a pain when you lose strength in your hands.
- Change the shower and basin tapware to lever taps or mixer taps which are much easier to turn. Think of these as the “power steering” option for taps.
- Consider temperature controls in showers to prevent accidental scalding.
- If possible, make sure the shower controls DO NOT sit in a straight line under the showerhead. This makes it near impossible for a carer to turn the water on without getting wet themselves. It’s much easier if the shower control sits on an adjacent wall to the showerhead for easier access and control.
- Install pull-down shelves in kitchen cupboards to make overhead cupboards more accessible For corner cupboards install a carousel to provide full access to anything that would otherwise lurk in the back corners.
- If you are up for it, you may also want to repaint using a light, matte colour on the walls to reduce glare, while the ceiling should be white to reflect as much light as possible in the space.
- As the final tip and the ultimate luxury item around the house, perhaps your next present for Christmas or Mothers’ Day could be a robotic vacuum cleaner?
“Ageing is just another word for living.” – Cindy Joseph
Now, depending on your age when you are building your next home, you may also want to think ahead to your own future state and consider incorporating some of these practical tips into your next home or renovating project.
It’s amazing how fast ageing seems to sneak up on us all; but after all, with a bit of careful planning growing old shouldn’t always mean moving out.