Remodeling can prevent falls at home
The topic of my column today is something homeowners really don’t like to talk about: the accidents and injuries that seem to plague us as we get older.
If you’re like me, you’ve lived in the same house for decades. My wife, Robin, and I raised our children in our house. We really like our house. If we ever move out of it, it will be because we want to, not because we have to.
Robin and I have a lot of good years left in us — at least we hope we do! We’re not having any trouble with climbing the stairs or seeing well enough to cook and clean or reaching the top shelf.
And to tell you the truth, we don’t plan to have any of those problems, even 20 years from now. In fact, we’re going to make sure of it by making changes to our cherished home as we age to accommodate the changes that happen to us as we age.
Let’s face it: We’re more likely to fall and have accidents related to mobility, eyesight and balance as we age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that emergency rooms treated 2.4 million people older than 65 in 2012 — and that’s 50 percent more than they treated a decade ago.
Plus — and this is startling — more than 200,000 in that age group died after taking falls, often at home. In fact, CDC says, more older people die from falls than from any other kind of accident.
As a remodeler, I’ve worked with a lot of older homeowners — and increasingly, younger ones — who are wisely renovating their homes now so they’ll be safe to live in later. These are people who cherish not only their family homes, but their own independence.
Here are some improvements they’re making to keep their homes comfortable and safe over the years:
First, add lighting — lots of it. Accommodate the inevitable decline of your eyesight by making it easier to see things. Rig a bedroom lamp to a sensor that automatically turns on when you get out of bed in the middle of the night. Install lights on staircases so you can see each step clearly. Put lights under kitchen cabinets so you’ll be able to see what you’re chopping and peeling easier — a good idea for cooks of any age who use sharp knives. Add more light in the bathroom so you can easily see yourself while you’re applying makeup or shaving. Surround the outside of your house with light so it’s bright enough to walk outdoors after dark — and so bad guys will want to stay away.
Think of all the mishaps you’ll avoid if you can see better around the house, inside and out.
Next, make sure you’ve got something to hold onto, no matter where in the house you are. In the bathroom, your “security blanket” can be a grab bar inside the shower stall and another one next to the toilet. Get a pro to install them for you, as he’ll need to reinforce the walls behind them first. On stairways, install railings. Avoid kitchen, bathroom and foyer falls by choosing flooring materials that have a slip-resistant texture that will protect you, even when the floor is wet.
Finally, give yourself more room to move around. Hallways should be wide enough for someone with a walker to easily navigate. Replace narrow doorways with wider ones. Enlarge the master bathroom so it’s spacious enough for a walker or a wheelchair. Replace your old toilets with taller ones. Swap those tiny knobs on kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors with handles that you can fit all of your fingers through. They’re easier to grip and make it easier to pull a draw or door open.
A well-informed design/build remodeler can show you dozens of ways to make your home safer to live in — at any age. It’s an investment that’s sure to pay for itself in avoided injuries and hospital visits.
And it’s an investment that just might save you from having “that” conversation with your adult children, who worry about your well-being as much as you worry about theirs.
Jeb Breithaupt is a third-generation remodeler who has been president of JEB Design/Build in Shreveport since 1983.