Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place Part 2: Stairways & Hallways
This blog is part of a series called ‘Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place.’ According to AARP, 87% of adults age 65+ want to continuing living in their current home as they age. To help ensure your home is ready to age with you, Friends Life Care presents ‘Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place’ – a blog series that explores how to make your home safer, smarter and better, one room at a time. Click here to read Part 1: The Entrance.
Living independently in your own home for as long as you can is important to many aging Americans.
But not all homes are suitable for individuals with physical limitations or disabilities, especially in areas where there are many older homes.
Picture this scenario: You’re home alone and working in the kitchen when you hear the buzzer on the washing machine go off in the basement. You walk to the basement door, open it and proceed down the stairs. Suddenly, you trip in the dark stairwell, fall down the stairs and injure your leg. You’re now immobile, essentially trapped in a dark basement with no access to a phone.
It’s a scary situation older residents can find themselves in due to the design of some homes. Many have cluttered stairways adjacent to the kitchen, limited access to light switches in the basement and limited access to a phone — all design elements that aren’t common outside newly constructed homes.
But this troubling scenario is one that could be prevented with careful planning.
Areas to focus on:
A key to aging in place and living independently is making sure your home can accommodate your needs, as well as those of anyone in the house with you.
This guide is meant to help you think about what the stairways and hallways in your home may need as you and your loved ones age to keep it safe and accessible.
As you age, stairways can become a big barrier to accessing critical areas of the home — like bedrooms, bathrooms, storage areas, and the washer and dryer.
Take a good, long look at the stairway(s) in your home, and ask yourself these critical questions:
- Are the stairs completely stable? This means no loose boards or railings.
- Can you clearly see the edge of each step? If not, consider adding reflective tape or paint to the edges.
- Is there a railing on both sides? Most of the time, one railing isn’t enough and that’s all many home stairways have — and if they do have two railings, one stops short of going all the way to the floor to make rounding the corner at the bottom of the steps quicker. Having two railings is truly the safer option as you age. This is because people are often stronger on one side of their body. If that’s the case for you, having just one railing means you’ll only be able to use your strong side when ascending or descending the stairs — but not both.
- Do the railings go all the way down to the flat floor? If not, consider extending them.
- Do you have enough upper-body strength to use stairs? If not, you may have to consider installing a ramp or stair lift.
- Is the stairway free of clutter? With so many stairways adjacent to the kitchen in area homes, the top of the staircase is often used like a closet to store items or jackets. However, it’s best to keep this area clear to avoid trip and fall hazards.
- Is the stairway well lit? Many Philadelphia-area homes do not have light switches at the bottom of the steps — making residents walk to a pull-style light somewhere in the basement itself for light. This is not ideal. If this sounds like your home, consider having lights and switches installed at both the top and bottom of the stairs. Motion-activated lights can be an even better option.
- Are the light bulbs in the stairway easily accessible? A lot of older homes have tall ceilings, making light fixtures difficult to access if a bulb needs to be changed. Extension ladders can be dangerous, so consider having high fixtures moved down — or purchase a telescoping pole designed for changing light bulbs.
- Is there a phone at the base of the stairs? If not, consider having one installed. You may not always have your cell phone handy, so consider what you’d do if you were injured in the basement (like in the scenario above). How would you call for help?
Another area of the home that could be dangerous if left unchecked can be your hallway(s).
Again, here’s a checklist of questions you want to run through while evaluating a hallway:
- Is the hallway well lit? Even if you have a good light in the hallway that can be turned on via a switch, you may still want lighting for your feet — especially for walking at night when you don’t want to use a bright hallway light. Consider adding automatic lights that can go in outlets by your feet. They can be inexpensive and hassle free.
- Are there light switches at both ends of the hallway? If not, consider adding them.
- Is there a rug in the hallway? If so, be honest with yourself about whether or not it could become a trip hazard. It’s OK to have a decorative rug, as long as it’s attached to the floor well and isn’t very thick.
- Does the rug have any raised edges or rolls? If so, it’s a trip hazard.
- Can the rug slide?
- Does the rug have a non-slip base? The best bases are made or rubber, adhere to the bottom of the rug and extend from edge to edge. It’s best to go to a rug or flooring store with the exact dimensions of your rug, and have a rubber base cut to those exact dimensions.
- Is the hallways free of clutter and trip hazards? Look for things like loose cords, boards or tiles. Remove anything you could stub your toes or slip on.
It would also be a smart choice to add handrails that extend down the hallway. Even if you don’t need them now, you might if you become disabled or injured. They can provide stability and even act as a guide when lighting is dim.
In addition, installing rocker-style light switches — whether in a stairway or hallway — can be a good option for those with disabilities or arthritis. They’re easier to use, and can be lighted.
Friends Life Care can provide home accessibility evaluations free to its members.
Contact Friends Life Care for more information — and stay tuned for the next part in our series: Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place.
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