The household computer has become as standard today as our telephones and televisions. Most families use their computers to access the Internet and seniors are no exception. According to a recent Pew Internet survey, 51 percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 64 are online and 15 percent of the 65-and-older population is as well.
While most seniors initially may have used the Internet to communicate with their family and friends scattered across the country, they also have found a whole world of information at their fingertips including new ways to research products, services, investments and general information. This ability to research companies has become very important to homeowners who hire contractors and tradespeople for their home maintenance and repair projects.
Companies like ServiceMagic.com, which matches consumers with prescreened service professionals, provide consumers with extra assurances knowing the initial research required has been done for them. Consumers can rest assured that the service professionals who contact them are not only interested and qualified to do the job, but have been screened for proper licensing, clean legal and bankruptcy backgrounds, and Better Business Bureau background checks.
"It used to be you grew up in a tight-knit community and could better rely on referrals from friends and neighbors," says Rodney Rice, co-CEO and co-founder of ServiceMagic, Inc. "With Americans being more transient today, most of those connections have been lost, so people are using the Internet to reestablish those connections and make informed choices when hiring local service professionals."
A survey by the AARP found more than two-thirds of older Americans describe themselves as very satisfied with their current housing and community circumstances. A sizable majority of respondents own a traditional single-family house, have lived in their home for many years, and plan to remain there for the rest of their lives.
However, most homes are designed for young adults and don't have the features and conveniences to make them appropriate and safe for seniors. A well adapted home will make many day-to-day living tasks both easier and safer -- often preventing the most common kinds of accidents. Sometimes installation of grab bars and handrails can make all the difference for an aging homeowner.
In addition to people with wheelchairs and walkers, other disabilities which can affect one's ability to function independently and safely include: loss or decrease in hearing, vision, strength and ability to lift and reach. A decrease in dexterity (ability to open doors, turn knobs, etc.), a declining sense of smell (ability to smell smoke), and the onset of dementia/Alzheimer's are other disabilities to consider. Changing lighting, flooring, and replacing door knobs with levers are some remodeling projects that can help give those with disabilities more independence and privacy, save time, provide convenience and increase the general safety in a home.
In general, there are four types of adaptations you should consider in your home:
As we get older, we will have more difficulty getting around and steps will become a significant barrier. Even if we never use a wheelchair, most of us would like to be able to make better use of grocery bag carts, strollers, wheeled trash cans, wheeled luggage and a variety of other conveniences. All these devices are stopped cold by steps. Like wheelchairs, they are also difficult to maneuver in tight spaces once inside the home.
One of the easiest ways to make your home easier to live in is to design it so that at least one entrance to the main living level can be accessed without going up or down steps. In many cases, this means rerouting or re-grading the front walk and porch. If this is done in conjunction with replacing a walkway, there will be little, if any, additional cost.
Inside the home, there usually aren't many steps that are easily eliminated. Just make sure that if you put on an addition, it isn't necessary to use steps to get into it! Another approach that works well is to prepare for single-level living. This means that as you make changes over the years, seek to give yourself the option of living entirely on one level -- even if only temporarily. That means making sure the full bath, kitchen and main bedroom are all on one level. Having laundry facilities on the same level is also a big plus.
Maneuverability is most critical in the kitchen and the bathroom. Use floor surfaces that don't become slippery when wet. Widen spaces and doorways. Whenever possible, design doorways that are 36 inches wide. Also, try to eliminate thresholds (those wooden, metal or stone bumps on floors in doorways) bigger than one-half inch. Make sure the thresholds used have beveled (sloped) edges. While you don't give any thought to them when you are fully mobile, they present real obstacles to wheelchairs and other wheeled devices. These changes will not only make your home wheelchair friendly, but also give it a more open, spacious feel.
The next issue to focus on is handholds. While it seems kind of unnecessary, keep in mind that many serious falls could be prevented with adequate railings and grips. This is especially true in the bathroom. Make sure you've got plenty of support around the toilet and the tub or shower. Does every step in the house have an adequate railing? Be aware that many original stair banisters aren't strong enough to support an adult's body weight. That is why railings need to be checked and reinforced if necessary.
A room-by-room review of handles and knobs can yield a substantial list of inadequacies. Doorknobs, window handles, faucets and other controls can be difficult for many people. Make sure they are easy to operate. The kitchen may be the most critical room of all. Can the stove control knobs be reached without risking a burn? Will knobs be easy to turn as hands become less nimble? How about the sink faucet? What about all those cabinet and drawer handles?
Finally, there are some other issues to consider. The odds are that your neighborhood will become less safe over time. Have you taken adequate home security measures? Do you have bright, automatic external lights? What about internal lighting? As people get older, they need brighter light to see the same things. Reading lights need to be brighter. Well-lit stairs become more important. An intercom provides added safety and a convenient way to communicate with others when it's difficult to get around. Something as simple as a peephole in the front door can be very helpful.
Burns are one of the most common injuries that older people face. In some cases, you can eliminate the use of the stove entirely for heating water. There are hot water dispensers that can be set up like another faucet in your sink. These are very convenient.
Scalding hot water also causes many injuries in the bathroom. It's not unusual for someone to fall in the shower or tub, hitting the faucet on the way down. What if the water temperature is suddenly increased and you can't get to the controls? Even moderately hot water will cause burns if allowed to flow for several minutes. A number of manufacturers make faucets that have a built-in scald prevention mechanism. They automatically cut off if the temperature exceeds a preset maximum.
There are numerous online sources to obtain help or learn more about assuring independence for seniors. To find more information on hundreds of home-related topics, consumers can visit Web sites like ServiceMagic (www.ServiceMagic.com) to research projects or find a prescreened remodeling contractor or handyman service that specializes in disability remodeling. Consumers can also contact ServiceMagic toll free at 1-866-888-MAGIC.