(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
"Remember the costs of making small changes now versus the cost of hospital or assisted living care. Most of these changes can be done with a simple trip to the hardware store," he told a crowd of more than 50 people representing Cape Girardeau, Scott, Stoddard and Perry counties. "These are the things you need to think about now, because you don't want to be thinking about them in a crisis."
Here's a room-by-room guide for evaluating your home's safety. You can find the complete "AARP HomeFit Guide" at www.aarp.org.
AARP recommends having at least one zero-step or no-step entry to the home -- for example, a gently sloping sidewalk instead of steps leading up to the front door. This provides easy access for wheelchairs and walkers, and lessens the chance of tripping or falling.
Make sure your house number is easy to read, that there is adequate lighting, and that there are hand rails where needed. Motion-activated lights are a smart idea.
Some people shy away from ramps into a home because they fear it will make them a target, says Eichelman, but an architect can work with you on a low-profile design.
Throughout the house
Door thresholds of a half-inch or higher can easily catch wheelchairs, walkers and feet. You can get inexpensive threshold ramps from a hardware store and place them as needed, or invest in permanent fixtures.
A wheelchair can fit through a doorway 33 inches wide, and a walker can fit through a 29-inch doorway. If you use this equipment, AARP recommends doorways of 36 inches wide and hallways of 42 inches wide. You can work with an architect to widen the doorways, or purchase special hinges that allow the door itself to open wider and maximize the space of the doorway.
Lever door handles are usually easier to grasp than knobs; you can even lean into them to open doors. Lever handles do tend to be expensive, said Eichelman, but you can "start with the doors you use most often and replace them gradually."
Carpeting vs. hardwood: Manuevering and mobility are improved on hardwoods, though they can be slippery, said Eichelman. Stay away from throw rugs, which are easy to trip on, and make sure you wear good, flat shoes with a good grip on the bottom. With carpeting, you can create paths with a firm surface, such as plastic runners. It may not be the look you want, said Eichelman, but it improves safety. Hardwoods are best for stairs. If that's not an option, opt for a smooth carpet with no patterns.
Consider installing a walk-in shower instead of a tub/shower fixture. This is easier to get in and out of, and also frees up space in the bathroom for walkers or wheelchairs, said Eichelman.
Ideally, grab bars should be installed horizontally and fastened into the wall studs; otherwise they may pull out of the wall when used. Look for a textured or grooved finish for better grip.
Consider moving the microwave from over the stove to a countertop. This location is easier for reaching, cleanup and moving dishes in and out of the microwave. It also lessens the chance of burns from reaching over oven.
Look for an oven rack puller to slide pans in and out of the oven without burning your hands.
"What's the worst thing about doing laundry, besides doing laundry?" Eichelman asked. The answer was unanimous: The stairs! If your laundry room is downstairs and you have trouble with stairs, you might want to invest in front-loading, stackable washers and dryers. These can easily be placed upstairs without taking up much space, said Eichelman.
Test your HomeFit knowledge
1. What is the leading cause of injury-related deaths for those 65 and up?
2. What is the leading cause of falls on stairs?
3. How many of us will have some sort of accident that will require rehabilitation at home or somewhere else?
a. 20 percent
b. 40 percent
c. 50 percent
d. 75 percent
4. What is the safest way to place a grab bar: Horizontally, vertically or diagonally?
5. Many seniors won't talk about making safety changes. Why do they avoid this discussion?
b. Fear of being placed in a nursing home.
c. They don't realize they need to make changes.
3. d. 75 percent
4. Horizontally. Most grab bars are placed diagonally based on length and wall stud placement -- but that increases the chance that you'll grab the bar and slip down, says Eichelman. Ideally, grab bars should be fastened horizontally and into the wall studs; otherwise they can rip right off when you need to use them.
5. b. Fear of being placed in a nursing home.