When you move into the house of your dreams, you picture living there forever, raising your family there, creating wonderful memories of Christmases and summers, living there in your retirement, welcoming your grandchildren. You do not think about what happens when the stairs become difficult, or the kitchen becomes hazardous, and you do not consider moving home because the house just is not accessible for you anymore.
When you have spent a lifetime making sure your house is just how you like it, investing time and money adapting it and getting the décor just right, moving out to a single level house or accessible accommodation just is not a satisfactory option for some homeowners. This is why more and more people are looking at ways to future proof their house to make sure that the family home will stay safe and comfortable ready for them as they age, and their physical needs become greater.
None of us knows what is around the corner, especially with our health, so it is sensible to review our living space and make adaptations to the home now which will mean the forever home is just that… a home you can stay in forever.
Think about Safety in the Kitchen
The kitchen is the heart of the home, and invariably gets the most use of all the rooms in a house. And because it is such a hardworking room the kitchen gets refitted on average 2.5 times in the lifetime of a family living in a house.
As well as being the hub of the house, the kitchen can also be a room that is full of hazards for someone who has mobility difficulties, or is visually or hearing impaired. Luckily there are lots of ways the kitchen can be made much safer, through the use of careful planning, positioning and even specialised gadgets, many of which are just common sense and would be useful even for those who are fit and well.
If you are heading towards older age and thinking of a kitchen refit, it is worth looking at your kitchen and identifying possible issues for the future, and adding some adaptions into your redesign.
Think about the positioning of the sink, hob, cooker, and fridge. As the most used areas of the kitchen ideally these should be positioned in a triangle shape, however for older people the triangle may need to be smaller, so the appliances are closer together. This means there is less distance to travel around the space, and is useful if you are carrying a heavy pan of water between the cooker and sink.
Consider the heights of the appliances and aim to have microwaves and ovens installed at a counter height to minimise the amount of bending and stretching needed to access them. Likewise, if you have deep cupboards, look into pull-out racks or even drawers instead of shelves to make sure you can get to the items at the back of the cupboard with ease.
Lighting in the kitchen is really important for people who have a visual impairment, so make sure that there is plenty of bright task-lighting above high use areas, for activities like chopping food, as well as more ambient lighting to make sure floors are clearly visible.
Keep the Bathroom Easy to Access
The bathroom is another room, like the kitchen which is high-use, but also full of potential hazards for people with reduced movement, or disabilities if not well thought through.
Bathing and showering needs perhaps the most careful consideration, as the risk is generally around the mobility needed to get in and out and the danger of slipping. There are a number of different styles of bath on the market designed for older people for just this reason. There are accessible walk-in baths which have a fully sealable door that enables the user to walk in and out of the bath, and once the door is shut the bath can be filled as normal. Some of these even have a reclined seat shape built in or in more compact versions the seat is almost fully upright.
If a shower is preferred there are tricky to make shower enclosures more suitable for older people. Shower trays can now be made almost flush with the floor to allow for wheeled access either in a chair or walker. Shower seats are widely available to give more stability while washing and can be removable or attached to the wall to save space.
In addition, grab rails can be fitted to the walls around all bathroom appliances to help with maneuvering around the bathroom and to minimise the risk of slipping. Care and thought should be given to the positioning of all the bathroom appliances to make sure that everything is in easy reach and the space can be navigated safely.
Make the Garden a Safe Sanctuary
The garden is often a key feature of the home, which can bring joy, relieve stress, and be a place to relax. Many older people find however, that if they suffer from mobility issues the garden is no longer accessible to them. Difficult steps, uneven surfaces or beds that are too difficult to bend down to are just some of the reason the garden might not be such a welcoming place for someone less steady on their feet.
Consider now whether there are garden steps that might be difficult or dangerous to climb. If so, often steps can be replaced with a smooth ramp, and it’s a good idea to add a hand rail to add extra support.
If the flower beds are ground level, raised beds can be added to the garden to ensure that they can be tended from sitting-height, saving the stress on the back and knee joints. Pots are also a good addition to the garden for this reason.
Look at the surfaces in the garden, if there are uneven paving stones or gravel paths, these might become difficult to walk on for older people, and can be replaced by smoother options available.
Lastly, gardening can be hard, heavy work and even mowing the lawn can become too difficult for older people, so think about alternatives. Many people are turning to artificial lawns to give them the same effect as a lawn but without the maintenance issues.
Keep the Upstairs in Reach by Installing a Home Lift
Perhaps the most common and easy to predict difficulty that older people face is climbing the stairs. Issues with hips, knees, energy levels and dizziness are just some of the reasons that many older people cite as stopping them from being able to manage the stairs as they used to. This can mean that the whole of the upstairs is out of bounds, and can be extremely limiting.
For this reason more and more homeowners are choosing to future proof their home by installing a home lift. And because it is a piece of equipment that can be used by everyone and can add value to the home, many are doing so long before it is an absolute necessity.
Home lifts provide a simple and safe way of moving between floors – all at the touch of a button. Lifts also act as an alternative to a stairlift and can, usually, be installed within a day with minimal building work and very little disruption.