8 quick fixes to make entering your home easier
Expert advice for seniors
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Maintaining a sense of independence is one of the main reasons seniors opt to stay in their homes—but coming and going from the actual home can present significant obstacles when faced with mobility or sight issues.
The good news? Many of the fixes to get in and out of the house safely are easy and inexpensive, say experts.
1. Bring in a bench or stool
Balancing groceries or package deliveries is a lot easier if seniors create a “welcome station” at their stoop, says Steve Hoffacker, a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) master instructor based in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“When you get there, you want more than the two choices of juggling your keys, mail, and packages, or bending over and putting everything down just to pick it up again,” he says.
Hoffacker recommends a bench or sturdy stool over a table for those who have the space, since they serve the dual purpose of a place to rest if needed.
2. Clear gutters and provide shelter
Installing a gutter—or making sure existing gutters are clear—can make entering and exiting the home a lot more pleasant so there’s no rain dripping on anyone’s head or puddles to navigate, says Hoffacker.
David Karas, a CAPS-certified contractor based in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, suggests that adding a simple overhang provides shelter from snow and can prevent treacherous wintertime patches under foot or icicles forming overhead at high-traffic areas.
“It’s great to have that little roof so as you’re looking for a key, you’re able to duck out of the rain or snow,” says Karas.
3. Install a railing or grab bar
Karas says that not only is installing railings and interior or exterior grab bars relatively simple, but serves multiple purposes. Homeowners avoid pinching their fingers in door jambs should the wind blow or the door slide shut while they are pulling themselves up or into the house.
“It’s (also) good for older people to use their hands” on rails or grab bars, he says. “It’s a form of exercise, which helps maintain muscle mass. Muscle atrophy is something that sets in quick.”
4. Invest in a portable ramp
Portable, temporary single-fold and multifold ramps are easy to come by, and there are myriad inexpensive options, says CAPS-certified Michael Peck, vice president of installation at Leaf Home Safety Solutions, in Hudson, Ohio.
Karas agrees, saying no matter whether they’re installed or portable, ramps are multifunctional.
“Ramps not only enhance mobility but can enhance your health, because now you’ve made it possible to get outside,” he says. “That can be where your dog can play or you can go talk to neighbors. I’ve even constructed paths to wheel out and roll to a raised flower bed or vegetable garden. Reconnecting with nature is something that’s tremendous for seniors.”
5. Let there be light
Updating lighting is another way to bring the outdoors in while also reducing the risk of tripping and giving a greater sense of security.
Karas explains, “If you have a big bay window with the curtains pulled and the light streaming in, it can be pretty blinding on a high-gloss floor.”
Because people’s eyes tend to glaze over with a yellowish film as they age, vision doesn’t adjust as quickly. Karas suggests non-glare frosted glass bulbs for both inside and outside.
Both Karas and Hoffacker recommend replacing older toggle switches with rocker switches—some of which have dimming capabilities—to increase surface area for those who may have arthritis.
A nightlight just inside the door that’s pointed downward won’t reflect into someone’s eyes for entering the home in the evening, and touch lamps that don’t require fumbling for a switch are also high on Karas’ easy-to-do list.
Then there are gadgets that both he and Peck recommend, including Alexa for voice-activated lighting, motion sensors (which also conserve energy), timed lights, and those with remotes.
“And you can’t forget about The Clapper— it’s still out there,” Karas says.
6. Remove tripping hazards
“Look to safer alternatives, such as rubber anti-fatigue mats,” he says.
Like Karas, Peck agrees that slippery, high-gloss flooring is a no-go, particularly in entry and exit ways. The same holds true for smooth, glazed tiles that get slick when wet.
Peck advises, “As far as flooring goes, it is less about the type of floor itself and more about the finish on the flooring. For example, a floor designed to imitate rough-hewn lumber or an ‘aged’ style of wood floor or even a lower sheen finish on the wood floor can help.”
But the easiest fix may just be adding a mat right inside the entryway to change footwear. “Oftentimes, the easiest fix is to change into house shoes with a sole that allows for some traction,” says Peck.
7. Simplify threshold transitions
“As we age, we tend to not lift our feet as much, so thresholds become a hazard,” says Peck.
“It’s important to create as smooth of a transition as possible between rooms and thresholds, not only to make it more aesthetically pleasing, but for safety.”
His quick fix? Removing the saddles between flooring.
Karas also says that those with dementia or Parkinson’s disease are more prone to being affected by a difference in floor textures or thresholds. His “easy fix that may not be the prettiest,” can easily be removed. He suggests reflective or duct tape at thresholds, Karas encourages seniors to talk to a contractor about zero-rise doorway threshold options.
However, this may require a new door.
8. Replace door knobs with levers
Karas says, replacing traditional door knobs that turn with easier-to-grip levers is easy, inexpensive (starting at $20), and “something I suggest 100% of the time.”
That project is also an opportune time to update traditional key-turn locks with keyless-entry Bluetooth options that can be opened and locked using one’s cell phone, recommends Karas.
These may ultimately offer more convenience, since different user codes can be assigned.
“Say your neighbor wants to come in and check on you or feed your cat—you can give them a different code than your kids,” says Karas, “that way you know who’s come and gone.”
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.