There comes a time in your life when you look at your parents and realize that they are getting older. They're not old, but they're slowing down a little, and it makes you start to think about the best way of taking care of them as they start to age. The last thing you want is for them to lose their independence and mobility, but sometimes it's hard to know exactly what to do.
One of the biggest trends in America at the moment is to maintain independence as you age. This doesn't necessarily mean your parents staying in the same house where they brought you up, but it does mean that they remain independent and active in the community. However, as they start to age, they face physical challenges that just weren't there when they were young.
The principles of accessible design are not hard to understand – basically if you put yourself in the place of someone with limited mobility, and think about how you would move about the house, then some things become relatively obvious. For example, door sills, while not an enormous barrier, make it more likely that you will trip – which isn't good as our bones lose density. Door sillsneed to be lowered or covered over to stop this happening. Steps leading up to the front door can also be a challenge, and a gently sloping ramp with a handrail can make a difference.
Once inside the house, narrow doorways with handles that are hard to grasp can cause problems. While widening doorways isn't always an option, offset hinges can give an extra couple of inches of room, and lever-style door handles are much easier to use than standard knobs.
Running up and down stairs is just fine when you are young, but it gets difficult as you get older. One way of addressing this is to change the layout of your parents’home so that they can do most of their living on one level. For example, look at whether the master bedroom could be relocated to the ground floor, perhaps where the family room was before. Failing this, there are a number of options such as stair lifts and even custom elevators that can make moving between floors much easier.
When it comes to bathrooms, try to redesign the bathroom so that it's easy to move around. Make sure that there are grab rails to hold onto next to the toilet, and in the shower and bath. You may also want to discuss with your parents whether or not a walk-in bath makes sense – although these can be expensive, they are often worth it. Also make sure that the shower has a non-slip surface to stand on, and that the height of the showerhead can easily be adjusted without having to stretch. Putting a fold-down bench in the shower where your parents cansit and let the water play on them while they wash is also a good idea.
In the kitchen, make sure that counters are situated next to the appliances, so that the need to move around is minimized. If one of your parents is confined to a wheelchair, then removing cupboards underneath the sink can also give them easier access. If this is the case, you may also want to consider appliances with accessible controls mounted on the sides – and some types of appliances such as drawer dishwashers that pull out from under the counter also make things easier. In fact, these types of changes can also help people who have problems bending over without actually being confined to a wheelchair.
If you're looking for more information about helping your parents to cope with aging, take a look at the federal government's Administration on Aging website, which offers useful information, news about aging initiatives, and links to other resources. Also, make sure you check out one of our related articles on the benefits of assisted living!