Homes can be dangerous places and the scenes of many accidents by people of all ages, but for older people, gradual changes in physical and sensory functions can make ordinary homes especially hazardous and uncomfortable.
Fortunately, it is often possible to modify a home at relatively little expense to make it much safer and more convenient for people who are experiencing declines in vision, hearing and mobility because of age or illness.That is the message being spread by ITT Hartford Insurance Group of Hartford, Conn., in an educational program featuring a booklet of 120 low-cost tips and a 28-minute videotape with tips, design ideas and background on problems of the aging. The booklet, "How to Modify a Home to Accommodate the Needs of an Older Adult," and the videotape, "For the Rest of Your Life," featuring actor Hal Linden, are both available free from ITT Hartford.
Another part of the program, the Hartford House, recently completed a nationwide tour with visits to about a dozen cities. The Hartford House, now in storage, is a four-room model home that incorporates many of the design ideas featured in the booklet and videotape.
"We felt that making the film would allow us to give the largest number of people an opportunity to learn how they can make their homes easier and safer to live in," said Michael S. Wilder, Hartford's senior vice president for corporate relations. "These design changes can help older people live in their homes longer."
According to surveys by the American Association of Retired Persons, about 75 percent of older Americans own their own homes and most want to continue living in the homes as they age.
The 78-page booklet is valuable not only for its tips, but because it specifically identifies manufacturers and suppliers of products mentioned and gives prices and sources of the products.
The tips cover lighting, noise control and aids to hearing, preventing burns and scalds, helping mobility and balance, compensating for reduced strength and dexterity, fire safety, and safety and convenience in kitchens and bathrooms. Some of the improvements suggested cost only a few dollars.
A few examples:
-Install an emergency light that goes on automatically during electrical outages and doubles as a flashlight ($15).
-To help signal a change in elevation between adjacent rooms, use flooring that has strongly contrasting colors. If the floors are the same level, use the same or similar intensities of floor colors (indeterminate cost).
-Replace standard light switches with illuminated toggle switches that glow in the dark (about $7 each).
-Install an anti-scald mechanism in the pipes under bathroom and kitchen sinks. The mechanism automatically mixes hot and cold water to a preset, non-scalding temperature ($60 each). Also install anti-scald safety valves on shower heads and other faucets to protect against hot-water scalding (about $19 each).
-Do not use carpet on stairs. Instead, highlight the edge of each step with textured tape in a contrasting color (tape $10 a roll).
-Place a portable chair with a back and rubber feet in the bathtub or shower to give the option of bathing while seated (about $28).
-Add a seat-extender to the toilet to raise the height of the seat. Some models include arms for added support in getting on or off the seat (about $25 to $75).
-Buy lever adapters that can be clamped onto round doorknobs, converting them to lever handles (about $25 for two).
-Lower overhead kitchen cabinets to 15 inches above the counter instead of the standard 18 to 24 inches to put more shelves within easy reach (cost indeterminate).
-Install a gas-sniffer alarm to detect low levels of natural gas or propane in the air (about $100).
-Use special floor and table lamps with large toggle switches in easy-to-reach locations instead of small switches located near hot light bulbs.
-Subscribe to a call-for-help pager system hooked to the telephone that will automatically send a signal to an emergency-response center in case of an accident or other emergency.
To get a copy of the booklet, call 1-800-237-4599 or write Hartford House, Box 4460, Hartford, Conn. 06115. For a loan copy of the videotape plus a copy of the booklet, call 1-800-243-6877. Groups wanting multiple copies of the booklet should write Richard A. Bulat, ITT Hartford, Hartford Plaza, Hartford, Conn. 06115.