There are many things you can do to prevent falls, along with making it safer and easier for your relative to stay longer in their own home. Some of these changes are really simple and cheap, some more complex and costly. You will need to assess how much needs doing for your relative, depending on their current health and mobility, and on the home they live in at the moment.
HomeYou can get some help in doing this assessment if your relative is in hospital or if the GP is advising them to look at options for care. This is called a ‘home assessment’ and is carried out by a team from social services and occupational therapy. Occupational therapy may then fund equipment such as a toilet frame, bed hoist, and alterations such as grab rails, ramps.
Checklist for adapting the house
Not an exhaustive list, but some things to think about if you alter a house up for elderly people:
- Door width – make the doorways the larger standard size so you can get a wheelchair through; don’t forget to make the front door extra wide too.
- Downstairs bedroom – if you have an upstairs, assume that at some point you will need to move your parents’ bedroom downstairs, and make sure that will be possible – with telephone points and tv aerial, and access to the loo all planned accordingly
- Spare bedroom – may be needed by your other parent if they can no longer share a bed/room with their unwell spouse (because they may need a hospital bed and have lots of paraphernalia) or for a live-in carer.
- Wetroom – if you can, make the downstairs loo into a wetroom with shower; essential if you need to wash someone who is disabled or in a wheelchair; and if you can, position the loo with enough space around it to install a raised seat over it if you have to
- Step in bath – if like many elderly people, your parent hates taking a shower, but can no longer get in and out of the bath safely, then you’ll wish you had one of those funny step in baths.
- Loo roll holders – sounds silly but install those ones you just slide the loo roll on and off
- Hand grips in the loo/bathroom – install these when you put the bathroom in, so you can put them in exactly the right place and you can have some say over what they look like
- Floor surfaces – you need a single floor surface throughout if you possibly can (eg wood, with no thresholds to trip over); this is really helpful for mobility if you have Alzheimer’s, as changes in floor surface can be confusing and cause stumbling. And to be really practical, if there are regular accidents in the bedroom – or kitchen – a hard surface is much easier to clean than a carpet.
- Lighting – lots of it, especially good ‘task lighting’ for reading, doing puzzles, sewing. They don’t always look great, but you can get good lamps in the back of the Saturday Telegraph magazine!
- Glass fronted kitchen cupboards – again really helpful for those with Alzheimer’s or any kind of memory loss, for obvious reasons.
- Lots of kitchen drawers – much easier to find things in drawers than at the back of cupboards, especially when you can’t bend down easily.
- Induction hob – ceramic hobs stay hot dangerously long after you have turned them off (if you remember to); naked flames on gas hobs are scary.
- But just as important is a hob with easy to use knobs. Do your research and make sure you go and try out the knobs before you buy – they need to be easy to twist and with clear markings.
- Oven knobs – same goes for these: they have to be easy to turn for fingers with arthritis
- Microwave – increasingly essential for heating small amounts of food, and needs to be really simple to operate.
- Telephone with big buttons and loud speaker – easy to find in those catalogues full of otherwise useful things you will never use. Phones for older people, whether for landlines or mobile, should be as simple as possible, with no fancy features which are just confusing. Find some ideas in Top Tips.
- Loud door bell – or one which can be gradually turned up as it becomes harder to hear!
- Ramp front door access – no steps, and a ramp which is a safe gradient for walking/wheelchair and which is a non-slippery surface
- Raised post box – you don’t want your parents to be bending down to post on the doormat every day
- External key safe – so you or a carer can get access to the house if necessary (and do make sure the door cannot be locked from the inside with the key left in the lock)
- Personal alarm system linked to local help line – with alarm pendants to be worn at all times
Have you got some good ideas for making it safer and easier to live at home, or want to see what others are suggesting? Join the conversation and share your knowledge in the Age Space Forum.