There are many reasons senior citizens prefer to "age in place" in their own homes rather than moving to a nursing home or assisted living facility. For one thing, no matter how well-run a facility may be, it never truly feels like home. Not only is there limited space for sentimental keepsakes, but living in a facility also results in a loss of freedom in the form of set mealtimes, mandatory wake-up times, and TV volume limits. Additionally, many seniors prefer to remain in a familiar neighborhood where they can be close to family, shopping, churches, and social groups.
Living in a nursing home or assisted living facility also comes with a hefty price tag, with an average cost of $4,000 per month for assisted living and up to $100,375 annually for full nursing care. Aging in place isn't just more comfortable - it's also cost-effective, making it a viable alternative for seniors with limited financial means. These cost savings are valuable for affording future healthcare, achieving a higher standard of living in one's golden years, and preserving an estate to pass on to surviving relatives. Seniors requiring additional care often face long waitlists at preferred facilities, making the ability to age in place, not just a preference but a necessity.
A home inspection is one of the most critical moves senior citizens can take to ensure their ability to age in place both safely and comfortably. A thorough home inspection identifies issues in an existing home ranging from inconvenient to downright hazardous for elderly individuals. As you make plans for yourself or your loved ones to age in place, one of the first steps will be to conduct a proper home inspection.
How a home inspector can aid the elderly
The overall goal of a senior home safety inspection is to enhance the accessibility and maneuverability of a home, as well as overall safety for elderly residents. A qualified home inspector will look over a house top to bottom and recommend various adaptations and corrections. This could involve modifying kitchen appliance height, installing a walk-in-tub, converting steps into ramps, adjusting floor surfaces, and more. By identifying hazards and taking a few simple corrective measures, it's possible to prevent injuries, improve quality of life, and vastly extend the number of years a senior citizen may remain independent in his or her home.
One of the biggest concerns when it comes to a home inspection is locating and eliminating hazards for tripping and falling. Falls are one of the leading causes of fatal injuries for senior citizens. Non-fatal falls are also one of the most common causes of hospital admissions. Injuries obtained from falls can result in lengthy recoveries and often result in decreased mobility and independence. Given that one out of four Americans ages 65 and up will experience a fall every year, a home inspector is crucial for identifying and removing any falling and tripping hazards.
A trained home inspector or home inspection software will perform a comprehensive assessment of your home. The inspector will examine the home exterior, entryways, and all rooms, including bedrooms, laundry rooms, bathrooms, garages, the basement, dining room, and kitchen. He or she will also assess the fire and electrical safety of the existing structure. Inspectors will often spot hazards and deficiencies that may not be obvious to the untrained eye. At the end of the inspection, they will provide a list of recommended modifications that you can undertake yourself or with the help of a contractor.
Types of defects found in "aging in place" inspections
Home inspectors are able to identify a broad range of potential hazards and mobility challenges during the inspection. These recommendations can include everything from adjusting the heating and electrical systems to modifying doorways and stair landings. Some common home "defects" and recommendations that often come up in the inspection include the following:
- Installing non-slip coverings on slippery areas of hardwood and tile flooring.
- Removing all potential tripping hazards, such as steps, shaggy carpets, slippery mats, and loose cords.
- Removing floor seams in entryways to prevent tripping.
- Repairing faulty electrical wiring that may cause fires.
- Repaving walkways and driveways to reduce tripping hazards.
- Covering stairs with ramps for easier wheelchair maneuvering.
- Switching pull-down style oven with swinging door styles to eliminate the need to bend.
- Replacing round doorknobs and faucets with lever styles in case of wrist mobility restrictions.
- Widening doorways to more easily accommodate wheelchairs and walkers.
- Installing shelving by the entryway to hold packages and belongings while unlocking the door.
Short home safety checklist for seniors
A trained home inspector will use a comprehension aging in place checklist to provide an in-depth report of potential safety hazards. Nevertheless, it never hurts to get a head start on understanding what hazards and considerations you may need to consider with your current home. Different rooms of the home can present different senior safety hazards. Here is a short senior safety checklist of common concerns throughout the home:
Electrical and telephone cords
Cords should be positioned far from sinks and hot surfaces to prevent electrocution and fire hazards. Loose cords also present a tripping hazard, so position appliances closer to wall outlets to eliminate the need for an extension cord. If an electrical cord must be exposed, use wiring anchors along the wall so that the cord will not cause a safety issue.
Rugs, runners, and mats
Many falls occur due to tripping over rugs and runners, so it's crucial to eliminate or modify hazardous floor coverings. Remove any rugs and runners that tend to slide on the floor surface and replace these with rugs that have slip-resistant backing. Alternatively, try attaching double-faced adhesive carpet tape to the back of existing rugs to prevent slipping. Adhesive backing does wear out over-time, so inspect your rugs and mats periodically.
The texture of rugs and carpets also matters greatly. Shag-style carpeting, in particular, is a major tripping hazard. It's a good idea to replace this style of carpeting with something with shorter-fibers, or at least to switch to a bare floor.
Telephones are the main way an elderly individual can call for help in the event of an accident or loss of mobility. Therefore, telephones should always be accessible and placed in several areas of the home. A telephone should always be within easy reach of the bed. Nearby each telephone, place an easy-to-read sheet with important numbers, such as the local police and fire departments, the doctor, family members, and neighbors.
Every floor of the home should have at least one smoke detector. Smoke detectors should be placed near the bedroom, either directly on the ceiling or on the wall 6 to 12 inches below the ceiling. Always position smoke detectors away from air vents so that they function properly in case of a fire. Inspect smoke detectors regularly and replace them as needed.
Electrical outlets and switches
Check if any outlets and switches are warm or hot to the touch - this can indicate an unsafe wiring condition. If you locate any unsafe outlets, unplug all appliances immediately and have an electrician check the wiring. Outlets and switches should also be fitted with cover plates to eliminate shock hazard.
All light fixtures should be fitted with bulbs of the appropriate size and wattage. Bulbs with wattages that are too high can overheat and cause fires, particularly in ceiling fixtures and recessed lights, since these styles trap heat. When in doubt, use a bulb with a wattage of 60 or less.
Electrical space-heaters are a relatively safe option but do come with the risk of electrical shock. If using electric-powered space heaters, opt for models with a three-prong plug and only use in a three-hold outlet. If your model doesn't have a three-prong plug, you can modify it with an adaptor.
For homes with kerosene or gas-powered heaters, always ensure proper ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure to use the correct fuel type and follow the manufacturer's manual. For any safety questions or concerns, contact your local fire department.
While heaters provide valuable warmth in cold weather, they can also cause fires if positioned too close to furniture, curtains, and rugs. Always leave a wide margin between the heater and any flammable materials.
Most local building codes require wood-burning stoves to be installed by a qualified contractor. It's important to note that insurance companies don't cover fire losses for woodburning stoves that are not in compliance with local codes. Fire marshals and local building code officials are great resources for learning about proper wood stove installation.
Emergency exit plan
While fire prevention is the highest priority, it's equally crucial to have an emergency exit plan in place in case a fire does occur. Home fires spread rapidly, so it's important to have a plan in place and a clear pathway to an exit. Practice the plan periodically to make sure elderly occupants are capable of escaping quickly and without the risk of injury.
Home safety inspections for longer-term independence
Many senior citizens wish to stay independent in their homes for as long as possible. An aging-in-place home inspection makes this possible by accounting for safety hazards and mobility challenges that seniors may encounter 5, 10, or even 20 years down the line. One of the best ways to ensure you remain independent is to avoid injuries, as these can severely limit future mobility and necessitate a permanent move to assisted living. Home inspections are critical for identifying unseen risks for trips, falls, and bumps, allowing you or your loved ones to safely age in place.