Senior-proof your home

Evaluate the safety features carefully in a house where senior citizens live

Housie, a young professional, went to meet his neighbour Reddy, who lived in an independent house with a small garden. Skipping the usual discussions on the weather, Reddy excitedly said that a renovation project was being planned, and added that he was unsure of its need.

Benign bathrooms

“My daughter wants to redo the house and the budget for just the bathrooms runs into several lakhs. I did not pay that much for constructing the entire house 30 years ago,” the 70-year old said. Housie had seen the bathrooms when he was a kid and knew it was not safe.

“Slipping in the bathroom is the most common risk for most elderly people. So, it is important to invest in safety measures to prevent falls,” he assured.

“The tiles in the bathroom floor must be anti-skid. These may cost 20-40 per cent more, but as the square feet covered in the bathroom is less, the impact on the budget may not be large. You must also avoid stairs and have a level surface when entering the bathroom. As getting up may be a problem, it helps to have grab rails that you can hold onto. These railings are very simple — tube-shaped handles that are mounted onto a wall – that cost under ₹1,000. The height of the toilet should be adjusted to avoid straining the back,” Housie listed.

Reddy added: “Not just these. We are widening the entrance to the bathroom to make provision for a wheel chair. The door, which now opens inwards, is being altered to open outside so that if someone falls near the door, you can still go in and help. And like in hospitals, a buzzer is also being installed, so that you can call for help.” “I hope you are also replacing the door knobs. Turning the knob takes effort, and if you have arthritis, it causes strain. Use simple, lever-type ones, and in the bathroom, make sure there is a way to easily open the door if it is locked from the inside. A shower chair also helps,” Housie added.

Ramps and rails

“Yes, the whole nine yards. But they are not just stopping with the bathroom, and are changing too many things,” Reddy complained. “You know the small step up at the entrance? They want to add a ramp”, he said.

“Seniors find it difficult to climb steps; ramps with railings are a better alternative. When you build a ramp, make sure it is not steep but has a gentle slope. It must also have good grip and not a smooth slippery surface. And railings are a great support, not just in the bathroom or by ramps, but everywhere”, Housie said. “To climb stairs, metal railings can be added on both sides to hold on to”, he explained.

Mrs Reddy came by with steaming coffee, hot pakoras and enticing milk sweets. “He is objecting to the changes in the kitchen. There are now shelves under the kitchen counter. So, I am constantly bending down to take out the vessels. It will help to change it to pull-out drawers. The counter is also too high, and it is a strain lifting vessels from the stove top”, she said.

“Modular kitchens can cost about ₹1 lakh but you can get a good carpenter to do it for about ₹1,000 per sq ft. You must also think about how to reduce the walking distance in the kitchen by arranging the shelves closer to the stove.

You can, perhaps, install alarms to alert you if you have left the stove on and forgotten about it”, Housie said, even as he debated the order in which he wanted to eat the items.

“Yes, she forgets turning off the stove and that creates a fire hazard and gas leak hazard”, Reddy said. “There are devices to provide such alerts?”, he said, knowing that Housie was a gadget geek.

“Yes, of course. There are also home automation solutions that offer many safety features. But we must not forget simple things such as making sure the lighting is right and there are no dark spots. Stairway lighting should be glare-free, so that you can clearly see the edge of the steps. In the night, there must be night lights and you must place switches at the door entrances. The switches should be visible even at night and easy to reach and operate. Passageways must be clutter-free and clear of loose rugs or wires that may trip you”, he said. He added that these are changes and do not cost money.

“You can also consider changing your couches and chairs if you feel the strain of sitting down and getting up. Big cushioned sofas may be difficult for some. And make sure you also change the doorbell so that it is audible and has a visual alert. You can also buy more sophisticated systems with cameras and phones at the entrance”, Housie said as he got up to leave. Winding up, he added, “For this 1,200 sq ft home, your cost overall would be about ₹5 lakh at the modest end if you do only the essential changes; it can run to ₹10-15 lakh if you go with a contractor or designer.”

The writer is co-founder, RaNa Investment Advisory

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