Issues involving Housing

One key consideration involving housing people often ignore is that your needs are likely to change as you age.  The home that was perfect for you and your family when you were younger may not meet your needs as you get older and increasingly frail and disabled.  As housing is often difficult to change or restructure, it should be thought of as a long-term commitment.  Thus, if you are considering remaining in your private home, or moving to another facility, you should make sure that it meets the needs you can reasonably anticipate as you age.

What are some of the needs and accommodations you should consider?

Problems with mobility frequently involve the use of Canes/Walkers and Wheelchairs.  If you are to use this equipment, several characteristics of the facility can become important.

Note the floor coverings.  Do the floors have rugs on them or are the floors some kind of hard surface?   Rugs, particularly shag rugs, can make using a walker or wheelchair a problem.  Hard surface floors are much to be preferred here.  Such hard surfaces are also easier to keep clean, particularly given spills, etc.  Note that throw rugs are to be strictly avoided!  They create major problems for walkers and canes, and can lead to falls.

If you are to use a Walker or Wheelchair you will, frequently, need to have wide doors.  The standard exterior door is a 36 inch door and is OK for most purposes.  Yet, the obese person with an extra-large walker or wheelchair may not find this sufficient.  Interior doors can vary to a great extent.  Interior doors 36 inches wide should be OK for most.  However, some interior doors may be 32 inches, 28 inches, or even 24 inches wide!   Be aware, a 24 inch door will not accommodate most wheelchairs and may ‘barely’ accommodate a walker!  Look for the widest doors you can get.

If you are considering remaining in your private home, make sure your floors and doors are ready to accommodate a walker or wheelchair.  While we don’t like to think that we may need to use these things, it may be that we will need to do so some day.

As you are considering your needs in a wheelchair, consider how you will enter and exit the home.  Does the home have a wheelchair accessible ramp?  Is the ground floor level with the outside, not needing a ramp?  If there is a ramp, is it’s slope shallow enough to allow a person to propel themselves up the ramp alone, or will they need help?  Are there hand-holds or railings that one can use to pull themselves up the ramp?   Look at the surface of the ramp.  Is it slick or textured?  In the rain or ice one may have a problem getting up or down the ramp if it’s too slick.  Being able to propel yourself into and out of the home without help is a real advantage.

Once you are in the home, can you use your walker or wheelchair to move about the home?   Is there enough space between the furniture to allow you passage?  Are there wires or objects that will cause problems?  Note that living in a split-level home may mean there will be parts of the home you will be unable to get to.  This is particularly true of multiple-story homes, homes with basements, etc.

Consider the Kitchen.  Can you move about in it easily?  If the oven or refrigerator door is open, can you get by?  Will cabinet doors block your passage?   Is there a work surface that you can use?  Most kitchens are designed and built for the able-bodied.  Few give thought about the changes needed for someone in a walker or wheelchair.  Think of your line of sight.  Most adults are about 6 foot tall.  As you stand at the sink you look down into it.  For someone in a wheelchair their line of sight is more like 4 foot tall.  As you sit in the chair you look almost horizontally across the counter and over the sink.  Can you easily see what’s in the sink?  Can you easily work on the counter with your arms more nearly even with your head?  Can you reach the items on the back of the counter?  Can you reach the plates and glasses, which many people keep in the upper cabinets?  While seated in the wheelchair, can you reach into the oven to remove a reasonably heavy casserole without getting burned?  Be advised, if your kitchen cannot accommodate a wheelchair, you may be dependant upon someone else to get your meals for you, which limits your independence and can increase your costs.

As if the Kitchen wasn’t enough, consider the Bathroom.  If you are to use a wheelchair in the bathroom you will need a vanity that is open and relatively high so that your legs can be wheeled under the counter top.   If you are having problems with mobility you really should consider an ADA-approved toilet (ADA = Americans with Disabilities Act).  These commodes are taller than most and make it much easier to get onto and off of, particularly if you have difficulty coming to a standing position.  Also, if you are in a wheelchair, grab bars on the side(s) and back of the commode are very helpful, as you maneuver yourself onto and off of the toilet.

How will you take a bath?  You, like me, may love tub baths.  Yet, as you become weaker and less mobile, getting into and out of a tub can be a real problem.  Instead, consider a shower.  Even if you have a shower, there are issues you should take into consideration.  Are you able to roll the wheelchair into the shower, or must you leave the chair and use a sliding board, etc. to move to a seat in the shower?  If you have a raised barrier around the base of the shower, you must get out of the wheelchair to get in.  Also, a solid shower door may look nice, but it will act as a barrier to you and will greatly complicate getting in and out.  A shower curtain is much preferred.  Once in, can you reach the hot/cold valves?  Are there grab bars in the shower?  This is particularly important to the person that can stand in the shower.  Having the grab bars will assist their ability to stand and help prevent falls.  Showers are improved with hoses and hand-held shower heads, so that persons with different disabilities can clean themselves properly.  Given all of this, it is especially important that the bathroom have solid surface flooring that can handle the inevitable splashing that will likely occur.  Obviously also, the bathroom should have a strong vent fan that can remove humidity and odors to outside the building, not just into the attic space.  Finally, the bathroom and especially the vanity should have good lighting.  As we age our eyesight frequently falters.  As we like to make ourselves ‘presentable’ in the morning, good lighting can really assist this.

Throughout the home, door knobs and faucet knobs should be levers and not round, etc. knobs.  People with arthritis have problems grasping things and the lever style knobs are much easier to use than are rounded knobs.

Finally, consider emergencies.  Does the home have a ‘panic button’?  These can be purchased at a reasonable cost and make life much easier for all concerned.  Inspect the home for fall hazards.  Are there objects that one can fall over or, falling, hit?  Smacking your head against a raised hearth can really leave a mark.

If you’re considering emergencies, can Ambulance personnel enter the home with a stretcher/gurney and easily maneuver to carry someone out?

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The Commission on Aging

         and Special Needs Citizens

This site revised

13 August, 2019