Here in Australia, life is pretty good. We have excellent healthcare, a great standard of living, and a high life expectancy. But that also means that our population is ageing, and quite rapidly at that. Estimates place the number of Australians aged 65 or over at around 16% and climbing. And that means that our future looks a lot like that of present-day Japan.
That looming new reality is causing healthcare organisations and government groups to look for ways to accommodate what is soon to be a tidal wave of Australian seniors. As a group, they’ll place a greater demand on the healthcare system and require more government support than younger folks. So far, most of the response has centred on ways to reform the aged care system nationwide and on recruiting young people to pursue advanced degrees in healthcare.
But those aren’t the only things that will have to happen to make sure that ageing Australians can live comfortably and safely as they get older. Soon-to-be seniors themselves should be making preparations to make their homes safe for them to age in place. The steps to doing so range from simple tweaks to substantial modifications, but they combine to create an environment suited to senior living. Here’s what they can do.
The first and simplest home modification to make to improve a home’s safety for seniors is to declutter – everywhere. Statistics indicate that one in three Australians aged 65 or over suffers a fall each year. And worse still, falls are the number one cause of seniors requiring hospitalisation. As you might imagine, avoiding those falls is a high priority if you want to stay safe while you age in place.
So, as much as possible, it’s a good idea to remove anything from the home that might cause a fall. The rules of thumb to follow are simple. If an item can be stored away, do it. If it’s not needed anymore, throw it away. And if there’s something you can’t get rid of and can’t store, move it out of the way of heavily-trafficked areas of the home.
Make Exterior Doors More Accessible
The next home modification to make is also the most obvious. It’s to make sure that there aren’t going to be any unnecessary barriers to enter and exit the home. That means installing ramps to provide an alternative to stairs and making sure that there are no high thresholds at exterior doorways. These changes make it safer to enter and exit the home for seniors, who may have to deal with limits on their mobility as they age.
Some other changes should be made to exterior doors as well. Round doorknobs should be replaced by lever-style handles. This makes it easier to open the door for those with motor control problems. They’re also easier on people who are experiencing arthritis. It’s also a good idea to make sure all exterior doors swing inward, to avoid the need to step back when opening the door from the outside. This is especially important for homes where the main entryway is near an uneven surface or a flight of stairs.
Another thing to do to make a home safer for seniors is to upgrade the home’s interior flooring. Throw rugs, while common, are one of the leading causes of in-home accidents for seniors and should be discarded wherever possible. If the underlying floors pose problems, it’s a good idea to fasten remaining throw rugs down so they can’t slide or crease.
In truth, though, the best option is to invest in short-nap wall-to-wall carpeting in as much of the home as possible. It’s a soft surface that can minimize fall injuries while still being durable and compatible with wheelchairs should they become necessary. Homeowners that just can’t bear to part with the stylish good looks of their hardwood flooring might also consider replacing it with cork flooring. It provides a similar look to hardwood while providing a non-slip surface that can still somewhat cushion any potential falls.
Of all of the rooms in a home that can pose difficulties for seniors, one is far and away the biggest potential problem. In the home’s bathroom, you have a combination of moisture and hard, slippery surfaces. It’s like a recipe for accidents of all kinds. For that reason, most homes will need a complete retrofit of their bathrooms to support seniors ageing in place.
The first thing to add is either vertical or U-shaped grab bars at appropriate heights near the toilet and in the shower. They will help seniors to stabilize themselves while they come and go from those parts of the room. Then, add non-slip adhesive strips to the floor of the shower or tub. They add an extra bit of traction to surfaces that would otherwise become hazardous when wet. And in bathrooms that feature tiled floors, the addition of rubber-backed bath mats is a must. They offer extra cushioning and won’t slide around as they’re stepped on.
For those who were considering a bathroom remodel in any case, you can even go further and invest in a walk-in tub. They eliminate the need to step over a high-sided tub which can be difficult for some seniors. And to make sure bath and shower water temperatures are always safe, a thermostatic mixing valve makes an excellent upgrade as well.
The modifications and upgrades mentioned here are by no means an exhaustive list. Depending on the home, there can be many more changes needed to provide a safe environment to age in place. There are also some more options that verge on additions of convenience. Things like voice-controlled lighting and activity sensors can make great safety additions to any home but aren’t must-haves by any reasonable definition.
The main point here is that the home itself will dictate what changes have to happen as the homeowner ages. And as long as suitable adjustments are made along the way, Australian seniors can look forward to spending their golden years in the home they love, free from the fear that they’re one accident away from hospitalisation. And that’s a pretty desirable outcome for any ageing Aussie!
This article is sponsored content in conjunction with the University of Technology Sydney.