Whether you’re entering retirement or experiencing it, remodeling your home has probably been on your mind for a while. Now, it’s finally time to implement all the ideas you’ve had during your working years and make your dreams a reality in your golden ones.
As you start to plan, however, don’t overlook the importance of incorporating aging-in-place design principles into your project to ensure your home is as safe and comfortable as it is appealing.
One of the first steps you should take if you’re configuring your home to age in place, is hiring a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS). A CAPS professional will let you know how to prioritize life safety, fall prevention, and convenience without sacrificing modern design and aesthetics.
Here are some safety considerations you should be aware of before starting.
1. General Home Safety
In general, you should follow a checklist when determining what safety features should be in your home. For instance, features like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, a fire extinguisher, dead-bolt locks, and supplemental heating systems are all safety features that should be installed and checked to be good working order. There are a plethora of safety features that can be implemented when designing your home, so be sure to speak to your CAPS contractor to see what they recommend for your personal situation.
2. Fire Exits
Building codes typically require an emergency escape route from bedrooms in case of a fire, specifically addressing the need for a minimum-sized window or a direct exterior door. If you have mobility impairments or any other type of physical or cognitive challenges, you or your loved ones may be at an increased risk in the event of a fire.
An evaluation of your home should be made to ensure a safe escape in both your current condition and your anticipated circumstances. Consider working with your CAPS professional to develop an escape process to identify what may be required to enhance safety. Here are a few things to consider:
- If a full doorway is not available, a window opening should be as large as possible
- Look for ways to make the escape as simple and quick as possible
- Study the egress areas outside the building for ease of access and a level base
An essential part of improving your safety is fall prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls have been found to be the leading cause of death and injuries in the home. The direct medical costs for all fall injuries is almost $50-billion annually. About one-third of those falls can be directly linked back to environmental hazards within the home.
Fortunately, these hazards can be minimized and even eliminated during an aging in place project. Falls that are related to other causes, like physical impairments and chronic conditions, can be greatly mitigated through design with safety and fall prevention in mind.
Work with your CAPS contractor to conduct a full inspection of your home to identify possible fall hazards. When assessing the house, there are several areas that are critical to address:
- Transition areas can be improved with grab bars mounted next to doors, in the kitchen, or near the bed to assist you
- Stairs can be improved with a second handrail; this can provide additional support for your caregiver as they assist you on the stairway
- Pathways may require improved lighting at critical areas with either switches or automatic sensors
- Carpeting or rugs that could present a tripping hazard should be stretched or removed
- Door thresholds present trip hazards and are not usually wheelchair accessible, but the same standard can be achieved by using no more than 1/2-inch for a beveled threshold
- Tub or shower floors can become wet and should be installed with nonslip flooring
4. Scalds and Burns
If you you’re unable to sense temperate extremes, it’s important to inform your CAPS professional. They will know how to safely control and contain sources of potential scalds and burns from tub and shower valves, drain and supply pipes under sinks, and ranges and cooktops.
5. Tub and Shower Valves
Your tub and shower valves should be anti-scald. In typical bathrooms, the valves are normally pressure balanced. This means that they control the temperature variations when there is a sudden pressure difference caused by turning on a washing machine or the flushing of a toilet. While these valves are important (and required by building and plumbing codes), they don’t have the ability to limit the maximum temperature. An anti-scald valve can sense the actual water temperature and prevent the valve from dispensing any water that is above a safe setting.
6. Drain and Supply Pipes
If you utilize a wheelchair and need a roll-under sink for easy access, the drain and supply pipes should either be insulated or screened with an apron to prevent any contact during use. If you have sensory impairments, you may not feel the increasing temperature of the pipes. Insulation kits are available from any home center to ensure your safety.
7. Ranges and Cooktops
Ranges and cooktops are another area that should be properly inspected for safety issues. Your CAPS contractor should inform you of what appliances do not require you to reach across the hot burners to adjust the settings. If you choose an electric, smooth top stove, it should have an indicator or warning light to inform you and your guests when the surface is too hot to touch. A good kitchen design will always minimize the distance between appliances and countertops so that a hot pan or baking sheet does not need to be carried far once removed from the oven or stovetop.
8. Communications and Technology
As you age, it’s important that you’re able to call for assistance or be easily monitored by a caretaker. There are a host of products on the market to help ensure your safety.
If you have hearing loss, a telephone device for the deaf (TDD) can provide a means to type text messages to others. They also offer visual signals to alert when a call is incoming.
A monitoring system can also provide peace of mind and allow you to live independently with an added margin of safety. Traditionally, these devices were worn as bracelets or necklaces, but they can now be incorporated into Wi-Fi-connected devices like tablets and laptops. Some devices have features that require a response from the wearer every so often to keep caregivers and family updated on the wearer’s current situation. You can also opt for monitoring services by a company that can be called in case of emergencies.
9. Security Systems
No matter where you live, a security system should always be considered to provide protection against break-ins, fires, and medical emergencies. Security systems can also be integrated into your monitoring system, giving you a comprehensive safety package. Wireless smart systems allow for an easy installation and a flexible location of the system. With the advancement of technology, the systems can also be designed to adjust lighting, thermostats, and locks – a great feature for anyone with a mobility impairment.