Activities that are easy now may become more difficult in the future: Going up and down stairs, standing up from sitting, getting in and out of the tub, catching your balance if you start to slip. . . . As you consider aging in place, it is wise to keep these issues in mind, particularly about the bathroom.
Structural considerations. To eliminate the need to climb stairs, the ideal is a full bathroom on the main level of the house. In addition, as we age, the likelihood of needing support increases. Whether a wheelchair or walker, or a spouse or paid caregiver is providing assistance, a spacious room is best.
Did you know the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house? Eighty percent of falls occur in the bathroom on hard, sometimes slippery surfaces. Most falls occur in the process of sitting down on or getting up from the toilet, or getting in/out of the bath/shower.
Bathtub or shower? The most versatile design involves a water-friendly, nonslip floor with a drain, and no hard curb around the shower area. This allows for rolling a wheelchair into the shower and provides room for a helper. Even without such a radical makeover, it's easy to install a handheld showerhead and a built-in or portable bench in an existing bathroom to create a seated shower option.
If you need to soak—great for achy arthritic joints—consider a walk-in tub. These tubs have a watertight seal on a side door that allows you to walk in, sit on a bench, and then fill the tub to the desired height. Or have a dip cut into the side of an existing tub to lower the height for ease of stepping in and out.
Toilets and bidets. Purchasing a high toilet or adding an extender that raises the sitting surface greatly reduces the physical challenges of sitting down and getting up. Many people find a bidet adds to convenience and cleanliness. (Twisting to wipe our nether regions becomes more difficult with age.) Rather than ask for help, cleaning with water can improve hygiene while preserving dignity.
Other fall prevention strategies. You don't need a full remodel to improve safety. Installing grab bars beside the toilet and within and outside the bathing area is an easy and effective modification. Grab bars must be attached securely to the studs of the wall and be able to support 250–300 pounds. Installing nonslip flooring or applying antislip floor coatings for higher traction is also wise. Increased lighting will help visibility and reduce falls. In addition, lights installed on the wall instead of on the ceiling reduce the need to get on a ladder, and possibly fall, when changing a bulb.
How age friendly is your bathroom?
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Life has a way of throwing us curveballs.
The unexpected death of a spouse—or a divorce—can certainly wreak havoc on your emotions. It can also throw a wrench in your finances.
If you are age 62 or older, here are some Social Security basics to bear in mind as you regain your financial footing or make contingency plans.
Survivor benefits. If you find yourself widowed after at least one year of marriage, then you are eligible to receive monthly survivor payments.
Did you also work outside the home? If so, you can choose the higher of the two benefits: yours personally; or as a surviving spouse.
Before deciding, confirm the amount for each one for three points in time: collecting now; waiting until age 70; or at your designated retirement age (as determined by Social Security). While you cannot receive both benefits at the same time, you can strategically claim the highest one now and then switch to the one that becomes higher later.
Spousal benefits. A divorce does not erase the contribution you made to the household. As a formerly married spouse, you are eligible for Social Security benefits based on the earnings of your breadwinning partner. As long as you were married for 10 years or more, you have earned spousal benefits.
Receiving spousal benefits does not affect what your ex will receive from Social Security. What's more, your ex does not need to know, give permission, or sign any papers. All you need to provide is the marriage certificate, divorce papers, and your ex's full name.
If you were also employed and are eligible for your own Social Security benefits, investigate which benefit will pay more: now; when you turn 70; or at your designated retirement age. Unlike survivor benefits, you cannot switch benefits at a later date. Decide when is the best time to apply, and choose the larger amount.
It's important to make a fact-based decision. The difference in monthly payments, added up over many years, could mean there are thousands of dollars at stake. There are many more details than we can cover here, including information about benefits in same-sex marriages. Consider working with a certified financial planner who can run the various calculations for you and suggest the wisest strategy. There's too much to lose to depend on Social Security staff for detailed guidance.
Find yourself suddenly single?
Let us help you get reoriented. Give us a call: 203-826-9206.
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Leslie Alin Tewes is a Geriatric, Disability & Medical Care Manager; Elder and Adult Care Advocate; Quality Improvement Specialist.