Life-expectancy is on the rise in India and the rest of the world too. According to the National Health Profile 2019 released by the Ministry of Health, in October 2019, the average life expectancy in India has increased from 49.7 years in 1970-75 to 68.8 years in 2012-16. More specifically, its 70.2 years for females and 67.4 years for males. This trend is expected to continue in the future, thanks to advancements in the healthcare industry and the availability of nutritious food.
This trend has led to a spurt in old-age homes, elder-care centers, and elders-only communities all over India. At the same time, many elders are moving in to live with their children or grandchildren for a variety of reasons. Depending on the age and overall health of the elder(s), this calls for modifications to the home to make it safe and convenient for them. Not making these modifications can increase the risk of pain, injuries, or disability to the elder.
Entrance, Walkways, Garden and Backyard
Uneven cobble-stones and pathway: While cobble-stones leading to the front door look trendy, they can be bumpy at times and cause elders to trip or twist an ankle. Replace them, or damaged pathways, with a flat and even material.
Ramp instead of steps: Steps at the entrance can be the cause for falls and tripping. Replace the same with a gently sloping ramp. This is required if the elder uses a wheelchair. If that is not possible, stick coloured tape at the edges of the steps to make them prominent.
Thresholds and frames: Ideally, the front door should be one that swings on hinges. Avoid sliding doors as the structure can cause tripping. For the same reason, avoid or remove the threshold at the door.
Avoid Slush: If the home has a garden or backyard, ensure there is no garden mud or wet soil as this can cause the elder to trip or slide, leading to a fall.
Living, Dining, and Bedroom
Flooring: If the home has smooth tiles for the flooring, have a layer of vinyl or wooden flooring installed on top of that. Ensure the vinyl or wood has a matt finish as against glossy, to prevent slipping and falling.
Carpets and rugs: These may be a fashion statement but a huge red flag for elders, as they can cause slipping and falling. If they must be used to keep the area warm, ensure they have rubber pads below to grip the floor.
Temperature control: Avoid keeping room heaters close to curtains or beds as this is a fire hazard. So also avoid having the AC directly on top of the elder’s chair or bed, as this can aggravate some health conditions.
Seating: The cushions in the chairs or sofas must be flat and firm so that the elder can rise or sit comfortably. Sunken and soft cushions put a strain on the knees, back, hips, and ankles while raising.
Mattress: The bed mattress must be firm, without being too hard, to ensure the right support for the body. Both the mattress and cot must be of even height on all sides. Pillows should be firm and of less height to reduce strain on the neck.
In the Kitchen
Kitchenware: Kitchen equipment must have easy to grip handles and knobs, without any sharp edges. The door hinges should not be very tight as this puts a strain on the wrist and fingers of the elder.
Mats with rubber grips: The floor must be dry at all times and have no water standing on them. To minimize risk, use mats with rubber grips to absorb the dampness.
Stove and chimney: The stove should have a chimney, or nothing above it. Having cupboards on top of the stove puts the risk of burns and clothes catching fire, while the elder leans to open or fetch something from the cupboard.
In the Bathroom
Non-slip flooring: Needless to say, the bathroom floor must be of non-slip material to prevent slipping.
Grab-rails: Further, it’s good to have horizontal grab rails next to the shower area and toilet seat to prevent falls.
Chair in shower area: If the shower is on top of the tub or inside a shower-cabin, place a plastic chair for the elder to sit on while showering.
Raised toilet seats: Raised toilet seats ensure the elder can sit or rise comfortably without straining the knees, hips, and back.
Lighting: Ensure the areas used by the elder have good light at all times, to reduce the risk of bumping into objects, walls, or doors.
Accessibility to things: All drawers, cupboards, and items frequently used by the elder should be kept at chest or navel height to make it easy for them to open or fetch them. Do not keep things used by the elder in glass containers as the latter can fall and break. Use plastic containers instead.
Electrical fittings: Avoid loose or hanging wires on the floors and walls. Damaged and old wiring should be replaced to eliminate the risk of electrocution and short-circuiting.
Levers instead of knobs: All doors frequently used by the elder should have simple, spring-loaded levers than he/she can bend easily. As against this, door knobs get stuck at times, which can be a risk to the elder.
Footwear: At all possible times, the elder should use slippers made of rubber or rubber soles to prevent falls. The elder should also use a walking stick or walkers to reduce strain and prevent falls.
The above may not be a comprehensive list, but it covers all the major dos and don’ts. These adjustments may cost some money, but it’s worth it, in contrast to the expense and guilt caused when elders have a mishap at home.
As Dr. Aravindan, Ortho Specialist at Kauvery Hospital, says, “When it comes to Elders health and well-being, better safe than sorry.”