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Age-proofing your home for seniors

Dear Heather,

My husband is several years older than I am and he keeps falling. I'm so worried about him as our house has lots of steps and rugs and things that could cause him to lose his balance.

He, on the other hand, is very reluctant to sell and get something on one level because he is so fond of the house and the memories attached to it.

Concerned Wife

Dear Concerned Wife,

Your concern is very real. If you are an older homeowner then one thing you will be getting more fearful of is falling. It's no secret that as you age the tendency to fall gets more likely.

Bathrooms are among the spaces most used by homeowners — they also happen to be wet zones, which increases the likelihood of falls.

Reducing slip hazards and ensuring adequate lighting and maximum comfort are vital to creating an age-proof bathing space. Here are a few ideas that will ensure that your bathroom is safe and easy for you to use:

1, Install a shower bench

A safe place to sit in the shower is vital for an age-proof bathroom design.

Decreasing the amount of time you stand not only eases the strain on your body, it also reduces the chances of slipping and falling.

Your bench/chair can be built-in, tiled or free-standing, but it must be sturdy. Find a bench that is large enough for comfortably sitting and bathing.

2, Install a handheld shower head

These clever shower heads are easily adjustable for height and, when placed adjacent to your shower bench, enable you to wash up while seated.

3, Install double-duty grab bars

These provide something for you to hold on to as you're entering and exiting your shower.

It's best to install one on the outside of your shower and on each of your interior walls so you can safely navigate the space.

Grab bars are highly functional; they can also double as towel and robe racks.

4, Increase the height of your vanity

The standard vanity height is 31½ inches (not including your countertop).

This isn't always high enough for homeowners.

Raising the cabinet height to 34½ inches (to standard kitchen counter height, including a 1½ inch countertop) can prevent you from having to hunch over as you're washing up.

Having said that, if you're more comfortable with the standard vanity height, don't increase it.

Also, if you want to make your vanity wheelchair-accessible, choose a counter height of 34 inches maximum, as specified in the American Disabilities Act guidelines.

5, Buy a comfort-height toilet

Most toilets are fewer than 16 inches high. Comfort-height toilets are 17 to 19 inches high, which makes sitting and standing much easier. This will reduce the strain on your back and knees.

6, Think twice about glass

Few things can open up a bathroom space like glass walls and doors, but if you're looking for an effective way to age in place they won't always fit the bill. They typically require more maintenance. Expect to squeegee regularly to avoid streak marks.

If glass is something you can't live without, there are types of heavy-duty shower glass that don't require as much maintenance.

However, they often come with a sizeable price tag.

7, Ensure that the space is well-lit

The better your bathroom lighting is, the less strain on your eyes. You also don't want to miss any wet spots that can be hidden by shadows.

Good lighting comes in many forms, including recessed lighting, vanity lighting, lamps and natural light. You may even consider placing lighting inside an enclosed shower.

8, Choose porcelain wall and floor tile

Porcelain can last a lifetime so chances are you won't have to replace it.

It's also perhaps the easiest surface to clean.

Water and a rag normally do the trick. If you're concerned about grout, look for porcelain tile with a rectified edge.

Finely cut edges allow for thin grout joints (as little as 1/16 inch in some styles).

You can purchase a pre-sealed grout as well.

9, Look for textured flooring

No matter which kind of flooring you decide to put in your bathroom, choose one that has high slip resistance.

A slick tile can increase the likelihood of an injury from a fall. You can spot a floor with good slip resistance by looking for grooves or feeling for texture.

Generally speaking, the more textured a floor is, the higher its slip resistance. You can also purchase some non-slip rubber matting.

There are ways to measure a floor's slip resistance. Tile, for example, is rated by measuring the coefficient of friction.

A flooring material's slip resistance can normally be found on the manufacturer's website.

10, Have a flat shower entry

This minimises your risk of tripping over a step as you enter your shower. It's also a wheelchair-accessible feature.

If you forgo a shower step, your shower floor will need to be properly sloped to allow water to drain correctly.

Also make the entrance to the shower big enough for a wheelchair. Because, you never know.

If your house is getting too large for you — it has too many steps, it will need a lot of upgrades in order to make it safe as you get older — it might be time to think about downsizing.

There are some wonderful one-level living opportunities at the moment (not always the case), some with elevator service and all modern conveniences such as pools and gyms.

I know it's hard to let go of a “home” where you've spent many happy years bringing up your family.

The truth is, those memories do go with you. Often it's not so much about fear of letting the home go but more about fear of the unknown ahead.

Why not encourage your husband to look at a few properties that are currently on the market, to see if anything would suit you both? I think he might be pleasantly surprised.

Heather Chilvers is among Coldwell Banker Bermuda Realty's leading sales representatives. She has been working in real estate for nearly 30 years. Contact her at hchilvers@brcl.bm or 332-1793. All questions will be treated in confidence. Follow Heather Realtor Bermuda on Facebook and @heatherrealtorbermuda on Instagram

As you age, it may be necessary to make changes to your home to prevent slips and falls

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Published October 30, 2018 at 9:00 am (Updated October 30, 2018 at 9:33 am)

Age-proofing your home for seniors

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