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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Keeping Seniors Safe in Their Own Homes

Expert tips for keeping your elderly loved one mobile, upright, and independent.
WebMD Magazine
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Does your home seem less accommodating than it used to? Join the club. That tends to happen as we age. Toilets are suddenly too low, cabinets too high, and steps and loose rugs make getting around perilous, especially if you have stiff, arthritic joints. Karen Kassik discovered this in 2002, when she brought her then 66-year-old mother to live in her two-bedroom home in Winter Park, Fla.

"I found out very quickly how inadequate this little house was," she recalls.

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Kassik, 45, used her background as a professional building designer to create a more senior-friendly home for her mom.

"The new house is light, open, and accessible for her. She doesn't feel like she has to worry about falling every day." Kassik now runs a business called Home Accessibilities, which redesigns homes so seniors can stay in place as they age.

The adjustments she recommends to her clients can work for any home. Some are major overhauls, but many are easy and inexpensive fixes:

Open and shut case. Switch out doorknobs and faucets for lever handles. You can turn them with your whole hand instead of having to rely on stiff fingers.

Clean start. Install a curbless shower to avoid having to step up and over. Put in a shower chair or bench so you can sit while you wash. And a hand-held showerhead makes cleaning both yourself and the shower easier.

New loo. Raise the toilet a few inches. As you get older, the extensor muscles that straighten your knees weaken, making it harder to get up. Adding a bidet will help you get clean without having to twist around.

Serving solutions. Use flat surfaces on your kitchen countertops and cooktop. They're easy to clean, and allow you to slide rather than lift heavy pots and pans. Pick a countertop that's darker than your cabinets; the contrast will help you see what you're doing.

Low ambition. Store your dishes and glassware in low drawers instead of high cabinets so you don't have to reach.

Reviewed on September 01, 2010

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