Aging In Place – Nine Simple Things You Can Do To Keep Us Old Farts Safe!

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aging in place

In the post World War II period between 1946 to 1964, roughly 75,000,000 members of the “Baby Boomer” generation were born – myself included. In 2011, the leading edge of this massive demographic turned 65, making them officially old enough to buy a Buick and/or retire. Those of us that make it to age 65 have a good shot at partying on for another 15-20 years. Lots of these boomers will be basically healthy, although many of us who survived the 60’s came through with a bit of wear and tear. Rather than moving to a retirement community, an assisted-living facility, or a trailer in Florida, many up-and-coming oldsters are choosing to remain more independent in their homes, close to friends, family, or their favorite corner tavern. If you, or someone you know, are going the “aging in place” route, here are some simple, inexpensive things you can do to make the home front safer and more antique-person friendly.

According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2012–2013, 55% of all unintentional injury deaths among adults aged 65 and over were due to falls. But they’re not the only ones slipping and sliding; according to Moen, 234,000 people are injured in the bathroom every year. Of those, 43,000 are kids under 18. Despite the title of this post, many of these modifications are a great idea for ANY home, and incorporating them won’t make your home resemble a geriatric ward. Let’s take a look at a few ways to keep EVERYBODY upright! We’ll start in the bathroom, since that’s where lots of the tumbles occur.

Grab This!

When you think of staying upright in the bathroom, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a shower grab bar. And with good reason – a grab bar is an excellent way to steady yourself in the bath or shower. It used to be that grab bars were utilitarian and available in any color you wanted, as long as that color was stainless steel.

These days, they’re available in many different lengths, and a wide variety of finishes. Many of them are designed to be unobtrusive, and don’t remotely resemble the institutional-looking grab bars of old. In addition to bars for the tub or shower, now you can get towel bars and even toilet paper holders engineered to be sturdy enough to lean on or hoist yourself up, while blending in nicely with your bathroom’s decor. The Delta TP holder pictured here can support 300 pounds. It can help you depart the throne, whether you’re aging in place or your foot fell asleep while you were reading classic literature. Installing a grab bar is a relatively simple DIY project, or one that any competent handyman can easily handle.

aging in place
Grab a sheet, then hoist yourself up

Stay On Your Feet!

Since the bathroom is such a trouble spot, there are a couple of other things you can do to make it a less-hazardous place to perform the daily ablutions. A grab bar in the tub is great, but you have to let go occasionally, as it’s hard to wash up with both hands clenching it. When you do, having a good bath mat, or some non-slip adhesive treads like the Slip-X treads we recently reviewed, can help prevent a nasty tumble. If you have a rug next to the tub or shower, make sure there’s a no-skid pad under it, to keep it from becoming a flying carpet.

Ascending The Throne

Before we leave the bathroom, let’s consider another product near and dear to us all – the toilet. For many folks who are aging in place, or even younger ones with back trouble or arthritis, it can be difficult to get on and off the throne. Having a higher seat can make it a lot easier to get back on your feet after the paperwork is done. Special handicap-height toilets are available, along with “comfort-height” models. A faster (and cheaper) solution than replacing your toilet is to just get an elevated toilet seat. Simply drop in the seat, install the included clamps, and you can add up to several inches of height.

aging in place
For twenty bucks, the HealthSmart elevated seat gives you a nice lift

Let There Be Light

A big problem for many who are aging in place is decreased vision. Changes in depth perception, reduced contrast, and diminished peripheral vision can make it difficult – and dangerous – to navigate even familiar territory. Having ample light makes those twilight meanderings much easier and safer. To avoid having to fumble in the dark, or perhaps risk a loss of balance from letting go of a walker, motion-sensing light switches can be installed anywhere a regular light switch is used. The switches are simple to install as a replacement for an existing switch, and are programmable to adjust how long they remain on after the room is vacated.

aging in place
Motion sensing switches light your way in hands-free fashion

And Keep Those Lights Burning!

Once there’s an easy way to turn those lights on, make sure they’ll last a good long while. LED bulbs keep getting cheaper and more reliable, they’re widely available, and they’re starting to come in shapes that don’t resemble something from the Jetsons. LEDs last much longer than the good old incandescent bulbs (which can only be bought on the black market, anyhow), can be obtained in “cool” or “warm” intensities, and no longer make an annoying buzzing when lit. In my opinion, they’re infinitely better than those pesky CFL “long-lasting” bulbs, which are slow starting, put out crap light, don’t last nearly as long as promised, and which should be disposed of as hazardous waste, since they contain deadly mercury.

Since changing burnt-out bulbs can be difficult, or even dangerous, for anyone aging in place, switching to LED bulbs should ensure it’s a task that will only need to be tackled every several years. As a bonus, they’re cheaper to operate – the 100W equivalent bulb shown here uses only 14.5 watts.

aging in place
LED bulbs are finally starting to look like real bulbs!

Make sure there are plenty of bright lights throughout the house, especially near stairs and other dangerous areas. One other place you can never have too much light is in the kitchen. Under counter lighting is available in multiple sizes and types, is pretty simple to install, and can be adapted to pretty much any kitchen setup. If you have to eat whatever’s prepared in that kitchen, it’s one way to ensure the cook can see the recipe – and read the expiration date on the ingredients, hopefully.

Keeping In Touch While Aging In Place

If you’re living on your own, it’s important to be able to keep in touch with friends, family, first responders, and the local Thai takeout joint. For most of us, the primary link to the outside world is the good old telephone. To make it easier for those with poor vision or reduced dexterity to call out, try a big-button speakerphone.

aging in place
Big buttons and a speaker – talk on!

Now you just need a way to sort through the riffraff calling in! It seems like most of the calls we get on our home phone are from people wanting money, or someone with a foreign accent eager to help with my “Windows system problem” – even though I use a Mac. To avoid having to jump up and talk to these losers, do an online search for “Talking Caller ID.” You can get a standalone unit for around twenty bucks, or for less than $100, a cordless phone with talking caller ID that will read out the name of anyone whose name is stored in your phone’s memory.

Easy Access

Aging in place is great, but first you have to be able to get INTO your place. If there’s a set of stairs to navigate to get to your entry door, there are a few things you can do to make the climb safer. First, make sure there’s a good, sturdy railing in place. It should be very sturdily affixed, and at the proper height to make it comfortable to use.

To help prevent slipping while on the steps, various types of textured anti-slip stair treads are available. The Safe Way tread shown below includes a glow-in-the-dark reflective strip, an added bonus to help find the edge of the step in low-light conditions.

aging in place
Non-slip treads help you avoid butt/stair contact

Easy Entry Is Key(less)

Congrats – you made it up the steps! Now you have to get inside. Fumbling with keys when you have poor vision, or shaky or arthritic hands, can be frustrating. It can even be dangerous, if you’re trying to keep your balance while unlocking the door. There are many keyless options to do away with keyed entry locks, ranging from smartphone apps to pushbutton keypads. One product worth a look is the Simplicikey system, which allows you to unlock the door with a simple key fob from up to 50’ away.

Zoom From Room To Room

Aging in place doesn’t mean being glued to your La-Z-Boy. As you go through your daily routine, you might as well make it as easy as possible to roam your domain. Traditional round knobs can be tough to twist with weak or arthritic hands. It’s a quick and simple task to replace them with lever-style latches. Easy to push down with a fist, or even an elbow, opening doors is much simpler, even with your hands full. Starting around $20, they’re available at any home-improvement store.

aging in place
Get some low-budget leverage

You Know Your Place – So Stay In It, Fellow Boomers!

In a few short years, I’ll be old enough to buy a Buick. I won’t, but I could. I’m blessed to be pretty damn healthy – physically, anyway. Mentally? Debatable; like I said, the ‘60s took their toll… We’ve spent a lot of time getting our place fixed up the way we want it, and have no intention of moving into any type of “retirement” home. We’ve incorporated several of the above suggestions into our renovations, and will incorporate more as our work progresses.

Most of the enhancements we’ve made don’t cost much, if any, more than using “traditional” materials. Most of them blend in nicely with our layout, and they’ll make our daily routines easier and safer as we get more decrepit. Most of them are useful now, as well. If you’d like more information on aging in place, just do a search for that phrase; there are enough resources out there to keep you occupied for the remainder of your natural life, no matter where you spend it. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear YOUR suggestions for ways to make life better for anyone aging in place. Fire away in the comments area below!

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About Phil

Phil’s path to the pinnacle of success as HomeFixated’s Senior Writer was long and twisted. At various stages of his life, he worked as a framing carpenter, attended motorcycle mechanics school, served as an Army MP, did a hot and itchy stint installing insulation in Phoenix, owned and operated a small contracting firm doing residential renovations, and worked as an employee of a major airline (Motto: We’re not happy ‘til YOU’RE not happy). He is currently semi-retired, but continues to take on little projects, such as the total renovation of an old farmhouse. Yes, he is a slow learner. Future projects include a teardown restoration of his 1965 BMW motorcycle, and designing and building a kick-ass playhouse for his grandsons. Phil loves spending time outdoors, hanging out with family and friends, cool tools, and a cold IPA when beer o'clock rolls around.

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6 thoughts on “Aging In Place – Nine Simple Things You Can Do To Keep Us Old Farts Safe!”

  1. We have to remember as we age in place that climbing out of the tub must be the same three point position we use on a ladder. I personally have installed a lot of the items mentioned in your column since my partner is disabled. The led lights save a lot of money over incandescent bulbs.

    • Right, Liz, knowing and using proper techniques is key to staying safe. And now that LED bulbs are getting cheaper, I’ve been slowly replacing all our bulbs. We’ve also had to replace a couple of dimmers, although some of the old ones seem to work fine.

  2. Great article! I’m on the tail end of the boomers (1962). While I’m healthy, I know plenty of aging folks in my town. I’ve hung plenty of grab bars (into studs of course) as well as coat floors to make them less slippery.

    The article focuses on things around the house to make life easier. One other thing I wanted to mention is just plain ole exercise. Dig it brother, just go for a stroll around the neighborhood, or the beach, or the park, or whatever to keep yourself moving. I’ve seen too many baby boomers become sedate, which leads to not being able to use your body any more. Use it or lose it man – Keep on Truckin! 🙂

    • Good point, Scott. I’ve seen the same thing. And it’s not just the body that turns to mush if you don’t exercise it – sitting around vegging out doesn’t do your brain much good, either. Obviously, there are some with severe handicaps, who can’t do much in the way of strenuous activity, but staying as active as possible, and engaged in a hobby or just getting out and doing pretty much ANYTHING, can help cut down on the senior moments and maybe slow the body’s decline.

  3. What you have to remember is that those drywall anchors can not hold enough weight. You will likely have to put blocking in the wall. Not hard but making the wall look right again makes it harder. How do you grab rail a shower or tub stall? Most are installed over bare studs and they probably don’t sit in the right spots for the grab rail. Just warning you now.

    • Blocking in the walls, or being able to drive some beefy screws into studs, is definitely the best choice. I’ve installed grab rails in drywall using heavy-duty 1/4″ toggle bolts. Most grab bars have three mounting holes at each end, and this provides a pretty sturdy installation. As for shower stalls and lightweight fiberglass tubs, sometimes it’s possible to get the grab bar mounted into the studs. Various sizes of bars are available, and sometimes it’s possible to install the bar at a slight angle to make sure you hit a stud. That said, you’re right – sometimes there’s no easy way to get a solid installation, short of tearing into the wall and ending up with a bit of a repair job Thanks for your input!


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