When imagining an age-friendly house, many people think of ramps for wheelchairs and walkers. Indeed, ramps are essential--if and when they are needed. There are, however, modifications for the outside of a home that simply make daily life and basic maintenance easier. They help prevent falls by addressing the common conditions of arthritis, poor eyesight, or limited balance.
Some safety suggestions also deter thieves.
Lighting. To reduce shadows, point lights down rather than across. And use frosted glass fixtures or bulbs to reduce glare (a notable hindrance to seeing well as we age). Consider adding lights that come on automatically in low-light conditions or when motion is detected. Put them along all pathways and stairs, and at the corners of your house. Also install them at common destinations, such as all entry doors, the mailbox, a trash enclosure, and the garage door. Abundant light illuminates hazards while also discouraging burglars!
Stairs. Several modifications can make a stairway safer. Handrails, ideally on both sides, that are at least 1½ inches in diameter so they are easier to grip. And a textured or nonskid surface on the tread of each stair. Also take care to repair any broken steps so they are level and soundly anchored. Even out the rise of each step so they are all the same height. To make it easier on knees and hips, plan for the rise of each step to be no more than 7 inches and no less than 4 inches. The tread—space allotted for the length of your foot—should be no less than 11 inches. If you are reinstalling a staircase, plan for a landing for every 12 feet of vertical rise.
The entryway. Many activities occur at entryways: Opening a locked door, bringing in groceries, greeting visitors, retrieving delivered packages. In addition to good lighting and nonskid surfaces, consider elements that might facilitate these daily tasks. A lever doorknob is easier for arthritic hands. A keyless lock avoids the need to juggle groceries while finding the key. Perhaps a bench where you might set groceries down. A hinged chest/seat would enable delivery people to safely hide your packages. You might also consider a video doorbell to easily view who is there before opening the door. Video can also dissuade thieves—or at least get a recording if someone steals a package left on the doorstep.
Simplifying home maintenance. Add gutter covers to minimize the frequency of cleaning out leaves. (After a certain age, ladders are not your friend! Bones are too brittle if you fall.) Change to brick or vinyl siding to reduce the need for ladder-based maintenance of a wooden exterior. Similarly, resin-based decking will save hours of on-your-knees upkeep.
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Leslie Alin Tewes is a Geriatric, Disability & Medical Care Manager; Elder and Adult Care Advocate; Quality Improvement Specialist.