A “Must Have” A.I.P. checklist for your next BIG BOX trip

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As I walked into the Home Depot this weekend to pick up a few things for my own home, I found myself browsing the aisles individually, even though I only had 3-4 things on my list (I’m a guy, it’s tough NOT to do that in these types of stores – especially with all the Fathers Day Deals going on!).  My proverbial glasses were tinted with the thoughts in my head about “Aging In Place” as we are assembling expert panel speakers and sponsors for our upcoming webinar this summer on the topic.

As I wandered up and down the towering aisle of product in this warehouse posing as a retail store, I thought back to a recent blog we’d written, “Forever Home” on a Budget, Starts with Common Sense.  So many people are still in a tailspin and recovery mode from the last 5 years between the housing crash and the stock crash at the end of the last decade, I was thinking about how anyone could possibly afford to move to a facility in the CCRC continuum of care (assisted living, nursing home, etc.)  The products that are available are many times even suited for the “DIY guy” (or gal) in the family.  Things that can be installed by your own son or daughter, your neighbor, or a friend you can “trade favors” with.

One of the easiest ways to “challenge your house” in a walk-through, to assess where modifications would be most useful in your home, is to do what I call the “Sock & Ball” test.  Place your hand around a tennis ball, and then with the ball in your hand, put your fist into a tube sock that goes over the ball & your hand, and part way up your forearm.  Now go USE your HOUSE.  Try to open doors.  Try to turn on lights.  Try to plug in cords.  Try to bathe.  Try to use your appliances.  Try to work your fixtures (faucets, etc.).  —- Go ahead, I’ll wait… —  🙂

Let me know how it went, I’d love to hear your feedback of the experience!!  Email me at info@EmpoweringTheMatureMind.com – thanks!  Below I’ll take a stab at what I think you probably found most interesting and challenging as you navigated your home:

Doorknobs: Do you have a flathead and a phillips screwdriver, and a little bit of patience?  If you do, you can replace door handles from KNOBS that are tough to turn and grip for everyone in comparison to handle, level, and paddle styles.  Cost varies by style, finish, and brand, but this can be done for $25-50 per door on average, and even in just the most traveled areas and used door locations, can make a HUGE difference in the ease of passage and safety maneuvering through your home with a grip disability, or even just with your hands full!

Switches: Which is easier to use with that “sock and ball”, a finger flip switch, or would a paddle style work easier with a larger flatter surface that you can “rock” up and down with the back of your hand?  This item I’d recommend an electrician for unless you know what you are doing, as I don’t recommend playing with things that, although they look simple to “copy what you see” when it’s pulled out of the wall, would if done incorrectly create a fire hazard in your home.  We don’t want that.  But we do want easier to use switches to control the lights in our home!

Rugs / Mats: This would actually fall under my “items to REMOVE” list.  Unless you have a specific area that needs the additional padding underfoot where you stand (such as where you prepare meals or do dishes), we don’t recommend “area rugs” per se.  If you DO need that extra under-foot support (and you can’t put it in your SHOES), then we recommend you find a mat that is sturdy, secure, and has a continuous solid quality to it, with tapered edges that slope down to the floor.  Any elevation change can be a challenge, just as in door ways and other “threshold” changes between materials.  These conditions pose a trip and fall hazard, so we wouldn’t recommend adding those hazards to other locations.  If you DO use a mat or area rug, please don’t use a loose rug with frayed or tassle-style edging, that’s pretty much the worst case scenario for getting things caught on it, having it bunch up or otherwise lend itself to the perfect trip-hazard.  There are medical device stores and aging-in-place products that would fit our preferred design suggestions above, but we didn’t see a good on in the “Big Box”.

Lighting: This is the category that can be most confusing, overwhelming, and difficult to navigate for product selection.  Without creating a 10 page paper on the topic, we’ll stick to the basics here, which are that you consider light levels, locations, ease of use, and variations by task area.  Glare is 200x more immobilizing to a 90 year old vs. a 20 year old (See information from Steve Orfield at Orfieldlabs.com), and yet under-lighting can be dangerous as our eyes take in less light the older we get, and our color differentiation tapers off as well.  So as a general rule, if you can provide a combination of natural light, ambient (general overhead) light, and also in some areas as appropriate “task” lighting, you should be able to provide the variety and options for the user to select from.  Task lighting is helpful where you are reading, working, writing, paying bills, preparing yourself (grooming) and cooking / preparing meals especially.  Incandescent lighting is warmer (more yellow) but so is our outlook more yellow as we age in color intake, so too much can be bad.  Also incandescent lights are less energy efficient / more expensive.  HID, fluorescent, and other options are available, but need to be weighed for cost, ease of replacement, coloring (some get “too blue” and cold, which can feel depressing or institutional).  This is really an area that an architect or interior design consultant can be of value in laying out specific to the client.

The other areas you probably found most difficult were appliances, cabinets, and sinks/faucets.  The stopper and the water handles on your sink are challenging as “knobs”, as are your cabinets vs. cup pulls or handles.  Turning on your shower, your washer and dryer, using your microwave, etc. are all tough with this “arthritis mimicking” study of the ball & sock walk-through.  Do you agree?  What did you find?  All of these?  Other areas?  What if you couldn’t walk easily due to an injury, what would your house work like then?  This is the point of planning for successful “Aging In Place”.

So, there are a few ways you can “browse the aisle” at your local Big Box store, thinking about how you can, in some simple and cost-effective ways, start making your home work better as your “forever home” with “inclusive”  design elements that will work better for us all as we age in our own community and house.  Enjoy your shopping!

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