Easing the Life for Everyone of a Certain Age

Here are some of the things that can make life easier for that certain age of women who has arthritis, shaky hands, carpal tunnel, rotary cuff problems in their shoulders and other age-related problems.

I got a brochure in the mail the other day, advertising construction projects for seniors. Things like homes, apartments and condos. I called the developer and spoke to the General Contractor, a man in his early 40s.

With the best intentions, what does a 40-year-old property developer know what seniors need? Perhaps, with a little research, he can learn what seniors need. These model homes were lovely, but all wrong for seniors and their needs.

First thing: the stairs. There were stairs from the garage into the house, stairs to the first and second floors, stairs to the backyard from a small deck off the kitchen. 

Not an elevator or chair lift in sight. 

What about seniors in wheelchairs? Or anyone with arthritis and hip problems?

Why design houses with the washer and dryer hook-ups in the basement when nearly everything you wash will be from bedrooms on the second floor?

How about sliding doors for the inside, instead of door handles that challenge shaky hands and arthritis?

You pull out a bathroom drawer to get your brush and forgetting it's still out, you bang your arm as you put your brush away. In the kitchen, you're backing up in a wheelchair and slam into an open drawer. Now it won't shut. There are drawers that shut themselves. Why not use those drawers for the bath and kitchen?

Now, here are some shorter musings on equally important aspects of a “senior home.”

Every doorway or opening must be at least 36" wide. You can't even get in the front door in a wheelchair or electric chair if it's not 36" wide. At some time, almost every senior may need that help. Building new construction with a downstairs bedroom and bath is necessary not just for the in-laws or guests but also helps if a family member temporarily can't go up stairs.

This is a big one for the bath: a shower. I know a senior who prays every time they enter or leave the tub, and I don't know a single senior who wouldn't swap a tub for a shower. There are electric lifts to get into and out of the tub, but they came with a steep price.

Push button appliances are really tough on shaky hands. Why not substitute push for flip switches?

Putting the mailbox on the porch, instead of at the end of driveway, is a gift in times of heavy rain and ice storms.

I strongly suggest you install an all-house generator. There's a price, but it's well worth it. Seniors are too old to deal without air conditioning on a 99-degree day. Similarly, I remember my power went out for a week after a snowstorm years ago; my son and I dragged our mattresses downstairs and survived in our living room with a roaring fire in the fireplace. If I got down on a mattress on the floor now, I'm not sure I could get up.

If you don't have a medical alert device, take your phone with you if you go to the bathroom at night.  And pay attention to where you're walking at all times. The last thing you want to do is step on Fido's squeaky toy and fall.

Some doctor's offices don't think of their older patients. A friend called her orthopedic doctor from the lobby and asked where to find the elevator. They told her there wasn’t one, but it was just a short set of stairs to the second floor. She told them to call her when they put in an elevator.

This isn’t an issue of special treatment, but one of common sense accommodation.

With just a few changes, life can be easier for those who need it most.