Be it a smaller apartment, house, retirement or assisted living facility or nursing home, when it comes to organizing spaces for older people, common sense is of the upmost importance. It’s essential the new home be set-up in an ergonomic manner, taking into account reachability and accessibility, so as to avoid any unnecessary bending, reaching and/or lifting, which could result in an injury.
Creating a safe and organized environment for an aging parent, sibling or friend is not just about safety, but also about helping that person transition emotionally into the next stage of his/her life. Following are a few ideas to ensure a safe and stress-free transition:
Slippers: I’m constantly at war with my mother, who at 88 years young refuses to wear proper (sturdy) slippers choosing instead to wear flimsy flip-flops or, worse, socks around her condo, which of course is decorated with wood flooring and a multitude of area rugs. I get it, slippers are ugly, but at the same time, slippers are safe. In my world, when it comes to living a long life, it’s all about the slippers and being organized (of course).
Stuff ’n spaces: Downsizing doesn’t have to be as traumatic as some people make it out to be. When moving into a new, and most probably smaller home, help the person who’s making the transition select his or her favorite things, knowing that less room necessitates less “stuff,” and remember, it’s not about what you want, it’s about what they want!
Laundry detergent: Avoid heavy containers of detergent opting instead to use detergent “pods.” Try to resist the temptation to buy large quantities, as the rubbery outer material has a tendency to deteriorate with time.
Rugs & runners: Young or old, small area rugs and hall “runners” will be the demise of all of us. Even with an “anti-slip” rug gripper to keep the runner in place, these small rugs are an accident waiting to happen and should be avoided when creating safe spaces for aging parents.
Closets: To help an older person keep his/her closets organized and tidy, the easiest “fix” is to lower the top shelf and closet rods to a position that’s easy to reach. In a perfect world, nothing would go on the top shelf (excessive reaching) or on the floor (excessive bending) and of course nothing should ever go under the bed. (more excessive bending).
Food containers: For storing leftovers and/or dry foods, purchase a set of easy-to-close/easy-to-open, lightweight and stackable clear plastic or glass containers. To maximize space, stick with one brand of containers, which have been designed to stack in a variety of ways. Be sure to look for “elder-friendly” containers that open or close with the touch of a finger.
Chairs: Chairs with sturdy armrests are the best option for seniors who sometimes struggle with balance issues. In addition to making it easier (and safer) for an older person to sit down and get up from a seated position, having armrests can also prevent a person from leaning to one side and possibly falling off the side of the chair.
Ladders: The only thing worse than a two-step stepladder is a plastic fold-up step stool, which is a surefire way to fall off your you-know-what and hurt yourself! It’s important to create an environment where everything is easily accessible without the use of a ladder or step stool of any kind.
Pots & pans: Invest in a few sturdy shelf dividers and resist the urge to stack more than two, or at the most, three pots, pans, serving dishes or dinner plates on top of one another. In order to prevent the possibility of a back injury, it’s best to store heavy items, such as pots and pans, at “waist level” in a cabinet or drawer.
Kitchen cabinets: When organizing and setting-up a kitchen for my older clients, I try to avoid the need for excessive reaching, bending or lifting by lowering the shelves to be within easy reach. I also encourage my clients not to use the very top shelf in the upper cabinets or the lowest shelf in the bottom cabinets. It’s all about the proper use of storage spaces.
Teakettle: Instead of boiling water in a teakettle or open pot on the stovetop, which is a major safety issue, invest in an electric cordless kettle. Russell Hobbs has a great selection.
Label: As with any new home, it’s always a challenge to remember which light switch goes with which light. In order to make it easier, while at the same time helping to develop new “habits,” I suggest labeling the various switches in each room; fan, table lamp or ceiling lights, et cetera.
Lighting: To reduce the chance of an aging parent climbing on a chair or ladder in an attempt to change a light bulb him/herself, use long-lasting light bulbs in the ceiling fixtures and wall-mounted sconces. Also, the better the lighting, the less chance someone has of tripping because they can’t see where they’re going.