Falls rank among the top worries that older adults face in daily life, and not without reason. Falls are a leading cause of injury and death among older adults, and adults who are injured in a fall may never regain the level of functioning they had before falling.
The best response to a fear of falling isn’t avoiding activities that pose a risk, however. Rather than limiting themselves, seniors should design home plans that minimize fall risk so they can enjoy maximum independence as they age.
Home Design Features that Prevent Falls
Luckily for seniors, many of the home features that support fall-proof aging complement housing trends: bright, open spaces; attached garage parking; and low-maintenance exteriors are easy to find among the current housing stock. These are the other features seniors need for a fall-proof home:
- Step-free design: A one-story home with a sloping entrance is both contemporary and accessible. Alternatively, seniors can purchase a multi-story home with framing for a home elevator.
- Wide doorways and hallways: Narrow spaces are more challenging to light, while wide doorways and hallways provide room for mobility aids like walkers and wheelchairs.
- Accessible bathrooms: Ample floor space, roll-in showers, grab bar framing, and fixtures that contrast with wall colors accommodate mobility and vision changes in the bathroom.
- Smooth, cushioned flooring: Plush carpeting poses a trip hazard, while hard ceramic or stone floors increase the risk of serious injury in a fall. Opt for hardwood, cork, low-pile carpet, or luxury vinyl instead.
- Modern kitchens: Elevated ovens, under-counter lighting, roll-under sinks, and drawers as lower cabinets not only give kitchens a chef-quality feel, they also make cooking easier as mobility changes. Include a seated workspace and slip-resistant floors for maximum accessibility.
Affording an Aging-Friendly Home
Aging in a senior’s current home may require a large investment in aging-in-place remodeling in order to achieve a fall-proof home. Most remodeling seniors tap into home equity in order to pay for modifications, although some seniors may qualify for grants through the USDA or Department of Veteran Affairs.
Depending on the resale value of their home and local housing prices, it may be more affordable and less hassle to buy a new home rather than remodel. Fully-accessible homes are hard to find, but seniors can work with builders versed in Universal Design to construct a home that suits their tastes and accessibility needs.
Medicare offers some support to seniors who want to age in place. Under its Durable Medical Equipment coverage, Medicare covers mobility aids including canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters for qualified seniors. Although Medicare Part B doesn’t cover grab bars, some Medicare Advantage plans may cover grab bars beginning in 2019. Seniors should check to see if their plan covers this benefit.
More Fall-Prevention Strategies for Seniors
A safe home is the beginning, but it’s not all that seniors need to prevent falls as they age. In addition to buying or modifying a home, seniors should engage in regular exercise to maintain lower-body strength and range of motion; avoid clutter, loose cables, and other trip hazards in the home; and talk to their doctor before changing their medication regimen, including over-the-counter medications. If a senior has suffered a fall or is at a high risk for one, home-based healthcare can help them stay at home rather than moving into a care facility.
Maintaining independence is a top priority for older adults. However, without taking the proper steps to avoid falls, seniors may find themselves in a nursing home or assisted living facility despite their ambitions. Preventing falls through housing and lifestyle changes is the smartest thing seniors can do to ensure they age the way they want.