Safety at home is more important as we age

The ageing of Australia’s population in the coming decades has significant implications for the housing market. So how might your needs change and what should you be thinking about when it comes to your current home or future needs?

Home safety features, small and manageable housing, and easy accessibility will become more attractive to a growing proportion of our population, turning much of Australia’s traditional housing, designed for a post-war baby boom as well as younger, larger families, on its head.

Over the 20 years between 1994 and 2014, the proportion of Australians aged 65 and over increased from 11.8 to 14.7 per cent of Australia’s population. This group is expected to increase more rapidly over the next decade, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, to almost 26 per cent by 2051. A further nine per cent is expected to be aged over 80.

It’s therefore pretty clear that many more of us will be living alone and wanting suitable housing. More families will be caring for a parent or relative, and others will want to stay on in their homes despite debilitating illnesses that can be associated with ageing.

This has important implications for the design, layout, fittings and locations of our existing and future housing. Because it’s increasingly clear that government may struggle to fund the supply of dedicated, affordable housing facilities for seniors, many of us will find that it is up to us to plan how we can adapt our existing homes so they remain suitable for us well into the future. This means we need to start anticipating today what our future needs may be, as well as what precautions and aids may be needed.

If you are beginning to weigh up your housing options or you’re keeping an eye on a parent, relative or friend, here is some advice:

Stairs and entrances

Many of us downsize from family homes to multi-level townhouses and, as time goes on, we start struggling with stairs. If you’re considering downsizing, try and keep in mind finding a property with at least one bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor. That way, if stairs become difficult, you have the option of adjusting your living arrangements and staying in your home, rather than having to sell. If you have stairs, make sure there are secure handrails, a smoke detector, and that the stairs and stairwell are well lit. Also make sure that the floor coverings, whether carpet, wood or tiles, are secure and can’t be slipped on. The entrance and hallways should also be clear of any clutter, and have easily accessible bright lighting.

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Take your precautions when it comes to steep and narrow stair cases.

The kitchen

It’s important to make sure that kitchen appliances are easy to reach and are in good working order. Easily reached kitchen taps, microwave, oven, and stovetop controls all play a role in helping us remain self-sufficient in meal preparation. Thought should also be given to the height of bench tops, cupboards, and how easy it is to carry food from the kitchen to the eating area. It can be worthwhile making some simple design changes now rather than waiting until a parent or relative starts to have problems.

The bathroom

Moving in and out of the shower or bath without risk, and with ease, is the most important safety feature for the bathroom. Could you need to install bars or a shower seat in the future? Is it possible to add non-slip rubber mats in and beside the shower and bath? Is the shower door easy to open and close or is it difficult to manoeuvre around? Also, can the bathroom be easily accessed at night, without having to use stairs?

The bedroom

It’s important there’s a clear, uncluttered path from the bedroom to the bathroom as well as to the doorway leaving the bedroom. You might also want to consider whether it’s possible to put a television and armchair in the bedroom, if there’s the space, as this can provide a private, comfortable and secure area to relax in the evenings. It’s also important to consider whether there’s an easily accessible telephone, in the event of emergencies.

Other areas

It’s also important to make sure working smoke alarms are placed throughout the home, and make arrangements for batteries to be changed at least annually. In fact, better still, it’s a good idea to check your smoke alarms at the beginning and end of daylight saving. As you re-set clocks, just check the smoke detectors. All appliances should be in good working order and stray cords that can easily be tripped over should be firmly taped or reorganised. Take a look at your door and cupboard handles. It’s much easier to replace handles than the property, when somebody in your care is becoming less mobile. And finally, make sure emergency phone numbers are kept beside every phone in the house.

While a safety assessment of the home might seem something only parents of young children need to need to worry about, it is an exercise that can benefit everybody.

Have you considered how your home might need adapting so that it suits you well into the future? Tell us about the problems you’ve solved and how you went about it.