Our role as aging in place professionals is to understand the mechanics of our own home first. Then we can project what we have learned onto the homes – and occupants – of those we visit and desire to help. Assessments are not done in a vacuum.
Just because we have a checklist does not mean that we understand how things happen and how to avoid those instances in the first place. By living the experiences in our own homes first, we are in a position to empathize with our clients and to speak from a position of practical knowledge (and not just academic learning) when we talk about making their homes safer.
Home assessments often begin with conversations between us and the clients we are visiting. We want to know what is going on in their homes with issues they might be experiencing. Are their homes making life more challenging for them that what they want? Are their homes presenting safety or mobility challenges for them? Can we verify what they say they are experiencing by watching them move about in their homes?
Without understanding how and why some of the issues exist that are being reported to us because we have witnessed similar circumstances in our own homes, we aren’t going to be as prepared to help people rectify their concerns as we should and could be. It’s one thing to have read about something or to see it one a checklist and quite another to understand what it means through firsthand experience.
So, as we begin the process of evaluating our clients’ homes with them and looking at how they organize their closets and cabinets, the quality of their flooring (including the presence of area rugs, throw rugs, or runners that may not provide safe footing or might be tripping hazards), lighting that is or is not present in various areas (including harsh shadows or poorly illuminated areas), how easy it is to move from one area of the home to another (including hallway and doorway widths and the way that doors open into, interfere with, or congest other space), and the presence of glare and troublesome reflections from shiny or polished surfaces or mirrors, we understand how and why to look for such issues because they are or have been present in our own homes and we have lived with them ourselves.
Everyday tasks that people perform in their homes such as walking about from room-to-room, making meals, cleaning up, eating, showering, dressing, watching TV, reading, and going in and out from the house to the garage, porch, or outside should be as safe as reasonably possible based on the layout and design of their homes. What may be required initially may be a change in home furnishings, decorating, accessorizing, or the amount of storage rather than any type of renovation. There may indeed be some physical changes that might improve the quality of life in the home, but a more basic approach or removing unnecessary items, painting walls more appropriate colors, eliminating sources of glare, and making sure that items allowed to remain in the home are relatively safe and easy to use may be far less expensive and disruptive for them to accomplish – at least in the short term.
Again, knowing what to look for based on our experiences in our own home as well as what we have seen in the homes of other clients make us a much more valuable resource to our clients when we consult with them about making their homes safer and more enjoyable.