We have a unique situation here in Maine. Not only do we boast of being the “oldest” state in the nation demographically, but we also have some of the oldest housing stock and most of it is rural. The question being asked is how do we create a safe and accessible living environment for our seniors and those with mobility issues out of old often unsafe homes that are mostly in rural areas?

The answer is as complex as the question. Aging in place, sometimes referred to as Design for Independent Living, refers to remodeling or renovating a home, primarily the bathroom, to become a safe and familiar environment where one can be independent and comfortable regardless of age or mobility level and not have to be moved to an assisted living facility as one ages.

According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans and most falls occur in the bathroom. Falling is not an inevitable result of aging and the risk for bathroom falls can be substantially reduced by making accessibility modifications.

A recent article published in Consumer Reports states that the average bathroom safety and accessibility remodel project can cost less than two months of assisted living care. Because the bathroom is the number one obstacle to the safe living at home, the importance of planning and incorporating safety modifications during a routine bathroom update or remodel cannot be overly emphasized.

In actuality, spending $5,000 to $7,000 on bathroom modifications will SAVE money, not cost money.

The most compelling information supporting this growing concept commonly known as aging in place is that these home safety modifications rarely cost more than the equivalent of just four to six weeks in an assisted living facility. And, accessibility modifications, properly done, may very well add to the resale value of a residence.

The most common modifications are done in the bathroom. A bath tub is as difficult to get in and out of at age 5 as it is at 75. Removing that tub and replacing it with a low threshold shower will have the greatest impact on bathroom safety.

Strategically placed grab rails are a must and there is no “typical” location for them. Each individual should be actively involved in determining where grab rails are placed based on how they use the shower, their height and strength.

Resist the urge to install shower doors. A heavy duty curtain with a weighted hem will keep water in the shower and not prevent a caregiver from offering assistance if needed.

Choose a stylish pedestal sink or a counter-top instead of a vanity with cabinet below. Not only will the room feel larger, it will enable you to get closer to the sink with a cane, walking device or chair.

Is your aging mother, father, aunt or grandfather having trouble navigating the bathroom? Are you worried about getting a phone call that your mother has fallen in the bathtub and broken a hip or worse, suffered scalding burns? Does your father complain about the humiliation of needing to ask for help to get in and out of the tub?

As you gather with friends and family this holiday season, begin the discussion about the safety and accessibility of your aging loved ones’ bathroom. Begin to think about having a plan in place should the need suddenly arise for a safety modification.

Contact the Certified Age-in-Place Specialists at Mid-Coast Energy Systems for your no-cost safety evaluation and price quote.Your family will be glad that you did.

Holly Haining-Zulieve is closely aligned with a certified aging in place specialist working to promote and advance the importance and value of aging in place planning using universal design. Universal design is the concept of specially designed products and environments that allow for access and utility by all individuals.

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