Whether you do it yourself or hire someone to make the changes for you, the safer you can make your home the less likely you are to have an accident and be injured. This is important because, according to the Centers for Disease Control, every year one out of three adults age 65 and older will experience a fall. Below is a list of common modifications and suggestions for hiring a reliable contractor so you will be able to safely stay in your home as long as possible.
Common Home Safety Modifications
Power stair lifts - If you own a two-story home and do not have a bedroom and full bathroom on the main floor, a power stair lift may make it easier for you to stay in your home even if you have surgery or find it difficult to climb stairs for other reasons. Stair lifts can be expensive, so talk to several companies before making a decision. Despite the cost, installing one will probably be cheaper than moving.
Grab bars in the shower or tub - If you add bars to the shower wall and an inexpensive shower chair, you can more easily continue to enjoy showers with less fear of slipping and falling. A professional may be required to secure the bars to the wall, so it is done without cracking your tiles.
Walk-in tub - For those who prefer a bath to a shower, a walk-in tub is much safer than a traditional tub which requires you to step over the edge to climb in and out. Contact several companies and try sitting in the tubs in the showroom before making your final selection.
Hand rails in hallways and stairs - If you have stairs around your home, make sure you have handrails to hold onto as you age. Be especially aware of short outdoor stairs which often do not have rails alongside them. A simple rail installed next to the stairs can make it much safer for you to use the steps.
Wheelchair / walker ramps - If the only way to currently enter your home is by using stairs, you may want to add a ramp so it will be easier to enter if you ever need to use a wheelchair or walker, even temporarily. You do not want to wait until you need a ramp before you consider adding one.
Lower counters in kitchen and bathrooms - For the same reason you do not want to wait until you need them before you lower your kitchen and bathroom counters, you may want to investigate the idea of lowering yours before you find yourself using a wheelchair.
Changing door and cabinet knobs to levers - Levers are easier to use if you develop severe arthritis in your hands. They are also attractive and easy to install years before you need them. If you are handy, you may be able to handle this improvement yourself.
Widen doorways to accommodate a walker or wheelchair - There are narrow wheelchairs which can go through nearly any normal doorway. However, if you are a very large person or have an unusually narrow door or tight space, you may want to see if you could widen the openings. You may even consider making changes to your floorplan to open up the living area of your home.
Electrical Alterations - If you bring a contractor into your home to do other work, you may also consider asking them to raise your outlets and lower your light switches so both are easier to reach if you loose some of your mobility.
Make Simple Changes to Prevent Tripping - If your floors are covered with an assortment of rugs, you may consider removing them or using rubber mats under them to prevent their movement. In addition, look for any other dangerous situations in your home, such as electrical wires and extension cords which you have to step over. Change anything that could be dangerous in order to reduce your fall risk. For example, instead of wearing normal socks in the house, it may be safer to wear indoor shoes or special socks with knobby, rubberized bottoms, which are not as slippery. Take a long, hard look at your home and lifestyle, then do everything you can to reduce or eliminate dangerous situations.
How to Find a Reliable Contractor
For those home improvements which you are not able do yourself, you will need to hire a contractor. However, you want to make sure you choose someone who is familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act and is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. You can get a list of these contractors in your area from the National Association of Home Builders at NAHB.org. The person you hire should be able to evaluate the safety of your home and make a variety of suggestions in a range of prices.
In addition, call your State Contractor License Board to see if they have any additional information about the contractors in your areas. Once you select a contractor, ask for their license number and verify its status with the board. Do NOT use an unlicensed contractor.
Get at least three bids before making a final decision. This could save you money. At the same time, you do not necessarily want to use someone whose bid is dramatically lower than the other bids, unless you understand specifically why they are able to do the work so much more cheaply than their competitors.
Learn more about home modifications from the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Modifications at www.homemods.org.
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