Creating a Visitable Home for the Holidays: Eldery

Visitability is traditionally a concept that means creating a home that can be visited by people with mobility impairments.  This series of posts looks to expand this idea to include making homes visitable by people with a wide variety of common disabilities, functional limitations, or health conditions.  The key idea is that a home isn’t just built for one person or even one family, but should be welcoming to all people in the community who may want to visit.

The holidays are a time when the visitability of homes get tested. Grandma struggles to get up the steps to the front door, Uncle Jon trips over the bathroom rug, and Cousin Mary isn’t able to come because she is worried about how her child with autism will handle the crowd.  People often aren’t aware of the multitude of barriers that can make visiting others’ homes challenging, and often these barriers can stop some people from coming to visit altogether.

However, some simple improvements can be made to homes to increase visitability for a variety of people, making your home more welcoming to everyone.  While not all these ideas are true home modifications, they accommodations that are fairly quick and easy things you can do today.

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Top 5 Quick Ideas for Visitors who are Elderly

1. Outside Entrance: Make the pathway from the car to your house clear and visible.  Add extra lighting outside (such as spotlights or Christmas lights) to guide people to the safest pathway.  Turn on the outside lights, and consider increasing the wattage in outdoor light fixtures if safe.  Remove any ice, snow, leaves, or other tripping hazards.

2. Inside Entrance: Make it safe for guests to enter the home with a chair to sit on while putting on or taking off clothing and shoes.  Use a small table or ledge as place for guests to sets down bags, purses, or packages (often reaching to the floor is difficult).  Consider replacing your front door (and interior doors) with lever handled door knob because they are easier to operate.

3. Bathroom: Keep the door open and lights on so it is easy to find.  Check that everything is within easy reach, such as placing an extra hand towel on the countertop by the sink or extra rolls of toilet paper on the toilet tank.  Offer to let guest use alternative bathrooms in the house if more space or time may be needed in the bathroom.  Suction cup grab bars can also be temporarily installed in bathrooms to help guest who are used to holding a grab bar to help stand up from the toilet.

4. Living Spaces: Keep things well light (turn on your lights and increase wattage if safe). Vision deceases with age and more light is needed to see and navigate areas safely.  Make sure you have clear walking pathways and remove any potential trip hazards (throw rugs, electrical cords, decorations on the floor).  Try to have a few seating options available for people of all abilities.  Firm chairs with arm rests are often easiest for older adults to use. Turn off background noise (TVs, music) and offer a smaller visiting area that is quieter for people with hearing loss because larger rooms are often too loud for hearing aides to be fully effective.

5. Dining Room: Try to have a some chairs with arm rests to help guest who struggle with strength or balance.  Consider serving food from a buffet instead of passing dishes, which can be challenging for many people (you may want to offer to help to dish up plates for people with mobility or cognitive limitations).

Have a great idea that I missed?  Send me an email to share your thoughts at beyondaccessibility@paigehays.net .