Remaining active and healthy in our home environment will prolong living independently and enhance quality of life. As we age, we are more at risk of becoming frail or developing chronic conditions that may impede the ability to perform the simple activities of daily living.

Falls account for 87% of all fractures. Hip fractures cause the most severe health problems and the greatest number of deaths. About 25% of hip fracture patients lose their independence and require life-long care and 25% patients die within six months of the injury because of complications.

Therefore, the physical features of the home become essential to one’s safety, independence, and accessibility. Redesigning and adding necessary aids can vastly improve one’s lifestyle. While in good health, the extent to which you modify may include the basics. You can adapt further to meet specific needs in the future.

Below is a list some of the modifications you may want to consider to make a home safer, and as well as handicapped and wheelchair accessible:

Outside of home:

• The garage should be wider than the typical garage allowing at least 13’ for at least one of the car spaces for transferring and loading/unloading of a wheelchair.

• The outdoor walkways’ surface should be 48” in width, level, and non-slip such as roughened cement (do not use gravel).

• The walkway to entrances can be built as a ramp with a 1” rise for every 12” in length. Allow a 5’x 5” landing anywhere the walkway changes direction.

• Allow at least a 4’x 4’ landing at doorway (5’x 6 ’ for doors opening outward).

• Install good lighting (sensors are great).

General Indoor:

• Preferably 36” width but no less than 32”for entry/exit doorways. Low sills and latch door handles at 36” to 44” high should also be considered.

• For more economical modifications to doors, use a swing, expandable door with offset door hinges. The additional 2 inches is enough to provide wheelchair clearance.

• Allow 48” width for hallways and 36” width for room doorways.

• Sliding, louvered, or pocket doors are easier to maneuver with a wheelchair

• Select flooring that is low maintenance, non-skid, and allows wheelchair mobility such as unglazed tile, wood, or indoor-outdoor carpeting.

Bathroom:

• Allow 45-55 sq. ft. of floor space with a clearance area of 5’ in diameter.

• Install an elevated toilet - 19” to 20” in height.

• Use non-slip mats or appliquιs in the bathtub and shower.

• Install grab bars on the wall next to the bathtub, shower and toilet.

• Install lever handles instead of faucets. Use anti-scald temperature controls.

• Bathroom sink should be at a 34” height with a 28” clearance.

• Design shower entrance to accommodate wheelchair access. Allow 5’ x 5’ for a commode chair. Flooring should be non-slip unglazed tile or cement that slopes towards drain at back. Install a fold down bench or built-in bench.

Bedroom/Kitchen:

• Install a light switch and an intercom system within reach of bed.

• Install rotating trays in cabinets and pantry.

• Allow 5’ of free space in front of each major appliance.

• Set counter tops at 30” to 33” (clearance of 26” to 27”below for wheelchair).

• To modify existing cabinets for wheelchair access, remove the under-the-counter cabinets and move the switches to electric plugs, garbage disposal and exhaust fan switches.

General tips:

• Install non-slip treads on wooden steps. Add contrasting color strips to identify change of level with first and last steps.

• Have adequate lighting at the top and bottom of stairs. Install handrails on both sides of the stairs.

• Avoid having to climb up to reach items in high shelves or storage areas.

• Utilize night-lights in kitchens, bathrooms, and hallways. Place an easily accessible lamp by the bedside that is easy to turn off and on (touch lamps work well).

• Consider a home medical alert system especially if you live alone. These are usually operated by the touch of a button to alert an individual or 911 when assistance is needed.

• Make sure smoke alarms are working properly, check batteries regularly. The alarms should be located in various areas such as in hallways outside of bedrooms, living areas, and on every level of the home.

• Carbon monoxide detectors are also important for homes that use natural gas water heaters, gas furnaces, wood burning stoves, fireplaces, or fuel oil furnaces.

Mary Garza Cummings is a free-lance writer. The Town Crier does not warrant the information as valid. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure validity of the information. If you have questions or comments, email askseniorfocus@aol.com