Whether mom is moving in, the parents want to live out their golden years in their own home or you're looking ahead to when your mild case of arthritis becomes something more serious, there are some pretty basic steps you might want to take to make everyone's lives a little easier -- and in many cases, a lot safer.
There are lots and lots of ways to prepare a house for chronic care management, so here's a list of some of the most common options. And don't forget, what applies to bathroom counters holds true for ones in the kitchen, too. These are good ideas for anywhere in the house.
In the Kitchen, with the Candlestick:
- It's a good thing to plan for the kitchen to be located near the front door -- those groceries can be heavy.
- Keep it nice and bright. Dim or uneven lights are a danger to people with vision and movement problems. Nightlights are recommended, as well as lights in closets and stairwells. Make sure all lights are easy to maintain.
- One of the key things in the kitchen, and throughout the house, is to design everything to be accessible to people in wheelchairs. For example, the microwave shouldn't be mounted up under the cabinets, and appliances like sinks and dishwashers should be easy to maneuver around. Side-by-side refrigerators are a smart choice. Racks and closets can be built with adjustable brackets in case things need to be lowered in the future.
- Heat can be a big problem for people with chronic conditions, so a lot of thought needs to be given to preventing burns and fires. Heat-resistant countertops, lights to indicate when burners are hot and devices to automatically shut off heating elements left on too long are some of the available options.
- Lots of counter space in general is a plus. Heaving a turkey out of the stove and then having to carry it halfway across the kitchen isn't fun for anyone, but it can be dangerous for someone frail or disorientated.
- Keep dangerous objects and substances stored away safely, especially in the case of dementia or Alzheimer's.
In the Bathroom, with the Lead Pipe:
- We can't say it enough: Large spaces for easy wheelchair maneuvering coupled with nonslip-textured surfaces are critical. Properly installed handrails and grab bars are a must as well (Luckily, designers are making these much more stylish nowadays). Easy-to-reach seats, ledges and toiletries are a plus.
- Bathroom telephones and rounded counter edges can be a good idea, and it's also smart to enable someone to unlock the bathroom door from the outside.
- This is another place heat can be a danger. As in the kitchen, install anti-scald devices on all faucets to prevent burns. The water controls (ones with one-lever handles are best) should be accessible from outside the shower.
- Bidets can make things easier. So can handheld showerheads.
It's also important to keep in mind that different precautions are geared more toward some types of chronic conditions than others, but since aging is frequently linked to the onset of multiple chronic conditions, it can be a good idea to focus on planning for the worst-case scenario before it's at your doorstep.
And speaking of doors, on the next page, we'll learn more about those and other parts of the house that can warrant a closer look if you're planning for in-home chronic care management.