Keep reading for some great tips on how to age-in-place safely and change up the way your home is lit.
(This article is written by Megan Crissey, an occupational therapy assistant student at National American University in Independence, MO.)
Showering: it is most likely one of the first things you do in the morning to wake yourself up and get ready for the day. Imagine now that something has happened to you and you are unable to get in and out of the shower like you used to. How does this change how you get ready for your day? Is there any way you can fix this problem so you can feel “normal” again? YES, there are changes you can make in your bathroom, also known as home modifications, to make showering easier and safer for you! Making changes in your bathroom is important to prevent injuries while showering.
According to AARP, the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house with 80% of all bathroom accidents resulting from a fall. If a person falls in the shower, they may have a fear of falling again. This increased fear may limit their movements while cleaning hard to reach areas, reduce the number of times they shower, or make someone stop using their shower altogether. How terrible is it for someone to feel unsafe showering in their own home? Occupational therapists are the professionals who can help you figure out the safest home modifications for you and your bathroom. AARP supports research in using occupational therapists for your home modification needs.
Research from the U.S. and Australia shows occupational therapists have a unique look on making your home a safe and livable space (Stark, Keglovits, Arbesman, and Lieberman, 2017). Occupational therapists are trained to look at each person individually and find ways to make their home work best for them. For example if your toilet is too low for you to safely sit down, don’t worry! An occupational therapist can find a way to raise the toilet to a comfortable and safe height that is just right for you.
Home is such a special place to each person. It is where you raised your family and made so many significant memories. Occupational therapists want to help you stay in this place for as long as you desire. Making simple changes in the home helped aging adults live in their homes longer and lessened the number of hospital stays due to falls and fall related injuries in a recent study in a community in Pittsburgh, PA (Dickson and Toto, 2018). Wouldn’t you like to stay out of the hospital? Find an occupational therapist today to help you stay where you are!
When looking for an occupational therapist, you need to find one who listens carefully to your wants and needs. While we have found that occupational therapy is the best fit for home modifications, research shows that clients and family members were more satisfied with occupational therapists who paid attention to their specific needs (Aplin, Jonge, and Gustafsson, 2014). What works for some may not work for others! Occupational therapists are skilled at matching your ideas and thoughts with the best home modifications for you and your family.
Now time for the fun stuff! I've got some great recommendations for you! Before you go on, remember to always include an occupational therapist in your home plans! Now read below to find out more!
If you are able to remodel your bathroom or build a new house, I recommend you put in a barrier free shower with non skid or slip resistant tiles on the bathroom floor. This type of shower eliminates the step into a tub shower combo or standard walk in shower. This means that barrier free showers work for people of all ages and abilities. For instance, they allow wheelchair users to roll in and transfer to a shower chair or bench with no difficulty. Barrier free showers drastically reduce fall risks! No shirking off showers because of a fear of falling!
If remodeling is too expensive for you, there are cheaper ways to make your shower safe! Non slip coating, like SlipDoctors, can be applied to your existing bathroom floor or tub shower surface as well. Non skid decals or non skid bathmats on your shower floor will add traction to your feet while moving around. FYI: non skid decals or bathmats work in a similar way as non skid socks on hardwood floors. You can be fall free on a dime!
Only 19% of American homes have grab bars installed near toilets and in the showers (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011). Grab bars on each side of the shower entrance and near any seating are great safety features because they allow you to hold onto a sturdy object for stability while you stand on one leg to get in or out. Grab bars are one of the easiest and cheapest ways to prevent falls in the bathroom. Recently, a client told me she had installed grab bars in her shower for safety and they were placed out of her reach. This client was unable to use the grab bars that were installed in her home! What a waste of time and money! If the client consulted an occupational therapist who specializes in home modifications, she could have avoided installing grab bars that are not usable. Don’t let this client be you!
Adding a hand held shower head can make rinsing easier for those hard to reach places. Bending over while standing to rinse may make you lose your balance resulting in a fall. If you feel unsteady while standing, sit down and use a hand held shower head to rinse off your entire body. I would recommend installing a hand held shower head with a mount that allows you to adjust the height. Another benefit of installing hand held shower heads is the price; I found some as inexpensive as $10! Plus, hand held shower heads are easy to install! You unscrew the existing shower head then screw on your new hand held shower head. Easy peasy!
Speaking of sitting while showering, consider placing a shower bench or stool in the shower to save your energy and reduce the risk of slipping and falling in the shower! Sitting down to wash your body will make it easier to reach different areas of the body like your legs, feet, or back. Thoroughly scrubbed feet and shaved legs gives us ladies the feeling of sweet relief! Gentlemen, don’t discount the opportunity to sit and shave in the shower if you have a handy recessed shelf to store your shaving supplies.
Using a long handled loofah and long handled razor can make lower leg grooming more comfortable! Being able to reach your back and legs to wash with a long handled loofah can make showering help you feel cleaner. Consider adding a hook or shower storage rack to hang your supplies close to you.
Adding automatic soap dispensers on the wall of the shower or bottles with pump handles can make getting shampoo, conditioner, and body wash effortless compared to trying to lift heavy, slippery bottles. Pump handles and automatic soap dispensers are easy on your wrists! Make sure the soap dispensers or hygiene products are within reach of you while seated to lessen back strain. Here are some examples below:
Extra lighting in the bathroom is always a good idea. You can add lights inside the shower area to increase visibility and decrease the chances of slipping on something unexpected. Also consider adding natural lighting with skylights or windows with textured glass, shutters, transom, glass blocks, or hopper windows. Natural lighting is attractive and makes us happy!
As you can see, there are many different options to choose from when making changes to your bathroom. Occupational therapists can come into your home, evaluate how you are able to complete your daily routines, and offer you the best solutions to help keep you safe. Today is the day to take an action step towards empowerment and freedom to live where you want to live for as long as you want. Home modifications can be a simple way to take away your fear of an uncertain future and replace it with the confidence to live a happy, independent life.
Aplin, T., Jonge, D. D., & Gustafsson, L. (2014). Understanding home modifications impact on clients and their family’s experience of home: A qualitative study. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal,62(2), 123-131. doi:10.1111/1440-1630.12156
Dickson, K. L., & Toto, P. E. (2018). Feasibility of integrating occupational therapy into a care coordination program for aging in place. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72, 7204195020. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2018.031419
Stark, S., Keglovits, M., Arbesman, M., & Lieberman, D. (2017). Effect of home modification interventions on the participation of community-dwelling adults with health conditions: A systematic review. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71, 7102290010. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2017.018887
Last week we discussed three ways to pay for home projects that help us and our families live at home safely and independently. Apparently, that article left you hungry for more information! So this week, I wanted to follow up with EVEN MORE financial resources for your consideration!
Let's do a quick recap on the who, what, and why it's important to invest in home projects, such as home modification or remodeling. We all want to live in our homes as long as we possibly can. (I have never EVER met anyone who said they wanted to live in a nursing home!) Despite us wanting to live in our homes forever, over 90% of housing in the U.S. is NOT set up for us to safely age in in place! That means every person in the U.S. needs to start investing in home modifications that will allow us to remain independent caring for ourselves, OR we will ALL end up spending more money on things we hate, like medical bills and rehab.
So you may ask, "Maria, how can I afford to pay for home modifications?" Great question! Here are six solutions for you:
1) If you are a home owner, renter, or landlord with a low to moderate income, listen up! You can request home repairs or simple modifications through your area agency on aging, which is financed by the Housing and Urban Development HOME Program and Community Development Block Grants. In Kansas City, MO, you can click here to request help to fix repairs and install accessible features, like grab bars in the bathroom.
2) Don't worry Missouri farmers and ranchers! I'm thinking about you too! The United States Department of Agriculture and Rural Development offer loan programs for low to moderate income home owners and landlords to buy, build, rehab, or improve a house! It is worthwhile to consider these low interest loans for home improvements that allow you to age in place. Before your family talks you into moving to the city for retirement, look into this type of loan for home modifications to stay safe and independent on your land!
3) Go to your local bank or credit union and ask about the loans they provide that are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Let's say you take out a loan that is FHA insured and something terrible happens where you are unable to repay the loan. Not to worry! FHA will reimburse your bank the amount of the loan balance. Since the bank is guaranteed a loan payoff, they are often willing to lower loan requirements for the income and credit score. These types of fixed or variable rate loans are great for low to moderate income homeowners and landlords to make homes accessible for people to live for a lifetime!
4) Do you care for children 18 years and younger with developmental disabilities? Do they feel heavier and heavier every time you pick them up to feed/dress/bathe/toilet them? It's time for some home modifications to protect your back and the health of your child! Check out the Missouri Medicaid waiver that pays for home environmental modifications to make it safer and easier for you to help your kiddo! This waiver is available to both homeowners or renters across the state!
5) If you have trouble getting in and out of your home, take a look at the Missouri Residential Dwelling Accessibility Tax Credit. This tax credit is for people with disabilities who have an income of $30,000 or less a year. You can be credited up to $2,500 for modifying your entryway (i.e. garage, front door, back door, side door) to make it easier to enter and exit your home. Personally, I love being reimbursed by the government for doing something good for my home and my physical health! No more worrying about accidental injuries when getting in and out of the house!
6) Veterans! You have sacrificed your time and lives for our country's independence! Now, it's time for you homeowners or renters to maintain your independence in the community! Go to this link to apply for housing grants to adapt your home! You deserve to live in a home that is set up for you to complete your daily activities. Also, click here to learn more about the Home Improvement and Structural Alterations Grant for veterans that focuses on home modifications specifically for bathrooms, entryways, and kitchens. In my humble opinion, those are the top three places in your home that you should address first!
The time for home modifications is now! I don't care how old you are! I'm looking at you all in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, or above! I don't care if you can still walk or drive at night! I don't even care if you think you can rely on your kids in your golden years! People of all ages need to make changes in the home now to live at home for a lifetime. All it takes is one project at a time, folks.
After you find out which financial resources above will work for you, call an occupational therapist, like me, to guide you in creating home modifications custom made for you. Occupational therapists understand that people have different wants and needs in their home. We love working with people to tailor their home environment just for them! In fact, check out the research showing that occupational therapists are the most effective at home modification recommendations!
Lastly, I know that you know people who could benefit from this information. Share this article with every veteran, grandparent, parent, farmer, neighbor you know! Click on the links above and learn more about these grants, waivers, and loans for Missouri residents! Consider this: if you clicked on one link a day, you would be finished in one week. Take notes on which financial resources will and won't work for you to stay organized. If anything, celebrate this Independence Day with looking at ways to pay for your independence in the future!
If you have read my blog or watched my YouTube videos, you may have noticed that I STRONGLY encourage people to make home modifications to live at home safely and independently. When people think about making changes in their homes, like home modifications or remodeling, images of giant piles of burning cash instantly come to mind. You tend to think, "I don't want to spend a ton of money right now" or "I have no money for a home project. I've got bills to pay!" It is common for people to fear spending money on home modifications. Just to be honest, I feel the same way towards my house!
Before we spiral into the depths of fear and anxiety, let me tell you that you do NOT need to spend large sums money on home modifications. Feel better already?
You CAN make simple changes in the house right now that are low to zero cost!
Case in point: I recently completed a low cost home modification project for a client. CLICK HERE TO SEE PICTURES! My client called me and asked for help to figure out how to make it easier to get out of bed and get on and off the toilet. We customized the bed height and toilet for her and added a bed rail that worked specifically for the adjustable base underneath the mattress. After trying out her new digs, my client had a big smile on her face and shouted, "Whoop, whoop!"
My client and I also talked about some long term home modifications to think about, such as enlarging the bathroom and widening the bathroom doorway to make it easier to move around. My client wanted to wait and think about how she would finance a bigger home project. I offered suggestions on looking at: 1) secured loans on savings, 2) home equity line of credit, and 3) certificate deposit (CD) secured loans. These options typically offer the lowest interest rates and maintain your total amount in savings. Talk about financial relief! Phew!
I share this information with people because I don't want you to end up spending more money down the road. Less than 10% of houses in the U.S. are set up for people with moderate joint problems! Unfortunately, many people put off making changes in their home because of money, BUT they end up spending MORE money on medical bills related to an injury at home.
If anything, take away this advice: Make small home modifications today and plan for bigger projects in the next 1-3 years. You deserve to invest in your personal safety and independence at home. Comment down below if you have already made some home modifications!
Bathroom Lighting: How Important Is It?
Answer: Very important! You want to see ALL of the potentially slippery surfaces. Per the Centers for Disease Control, the bathroom is the number ONE room at home where falls take place. No one likes falling. It hurts and can result in serious injuries that take you to the hospital. And then you have pesky hospital bills. Do you see how important bathroom lighting is now?
It is worthwhile to have lighting in different parts of the bathroom at various angles for particular tasks. Think about your bathroom right now. Do you have general lighting from the center of the ceiling with a down light or a globe? Most bathrooms do have this feature. This lighting is great for moving in the bathroom from point A to point B, but general lighting does not work for everything.
Having a hard time telling the difference between the shampoo and conditioner? Are you cutting yourself while shaving? Then you probably do not have adequate lighting in your shower or shower bathtub. I feel your pain literally and figuratively. I too have used showers with no lighting and needlessly suffered in the darkness.
Not to worry though! Let me tell you about your options for shower lighting! You can place a globe in the center of the shower ceiling. But let's talk about some other more interesting options: strip lights on the ceiling and/or floor, wall mounted down lights, down lights faced sideways from the wall, or a row of LED lights on the wall. Any of these options would improve your safety while showering!
Hey, we also need to consider lighting for our friend, the toilet. Standing up from the toilet is another potential fall in the bathroom. Extra lighting helps you clearly see where you’re moving! Some suggestions for additional lighting include: a globe light overhead, two down lights, a low glow wall wash, floor level lighting, or cove lighting.
Lastly, do you squint at yourself in the mirror because it’s too dark? Or do you find yourself turning away from your reflection because the lighting is too harsh? What you need is light from all sides and angles to flatter your features! Combine an overhead light with a mirror affixed slightly away from the wall with the light source set behind the mirror on the sides or on all sides. A fun, glamorous way to light up the mirror is to install spotlights around the mirror on each side. Warning: people may linger at your bathroom mirror longer than usual!
Whatever you decide to do with your bathroom lighting, consider adding a dimmer to control the light intensity in the room. A dimmer allows you to create a more relaxing mood if you are taking a bath or choose to leave on the bathroom light during the night. We all differ in how much light intensity we need to see our environment, however, it’s essential we have lighting to see all parts of the bathroom for our daily needs! For more diagrams on different types of bathroom lighting, click here.
Reference: House Plans Helper
In college, I took a class called, "Biology of Aging" with great curiosity. The class revealed detailed facts on the decline of every body system throughout the aging process. The recently deceased Philip Roth gave a quote to adequately sum up my overall feelings of the course, "Old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre." Although it gave me a somber perspective, the class allowed me to be more empathetic and understanding of an older adult's experience while working as an occupational therapist in skilled nursing facilities.
The aging process can be a barrier to a person's ability to be as independent as they used to be. Here are a few examples of barriers to every day living:
As we age, our sensations (i.e. eyesight, touch, smell, taste, hearing, balance) diminish making it more difficult to be aware of potential harm in our homes and community.
There is an increased risk of falling with potential to damage paper-thin skin or break bones plagued with osteoporosis.
The medications prescribed for heart problems, diabetes, sleep problems, or allergies can make older adults feel dizzy when standing up and moving around the home.
Seniors feel insecure about urinary incontinence while going out into the community with the fear of having an accident in public.