Creating safe living environments is something most of us would agree is a major aim of remodeling and renovation projects, yet achieving that objective is much easier talked about than actually done. Partly, the budget is a factor, partly it’s the style and age of the homes we work in, and partly it is up to the occupants of a home to have the work done. There are many ways we can create a safe living environment, but people have to be willing to let us help them.
For openers, just what is safety in the home, what makes a person feel safe where they live, and for that matter, what makes us feel safe where we live?
Safety can be interpreted and expressed in a variety of ways – both inside and outside the home. People want to feel secure, they want to be confident in their home and their surroundings, and they desire peace-of-mind living in their home – free from worry about personal injury or malfunctions of various aspects of their home. The concept of safety is quite comprehensive, yet at the same time, it is elusive. It is easily discussed but harder to create.
Safety stems from both the physical characteristics of the home and the way people use their home and go about their daily activities. As aging in place professionals, we have to be vigilant in anticipating how someone’s home might fail to provide the degree of safety that everyone expects to have in their home and be proactive in suggesting changes that will allow people to be safer in their homes. Then, we need people to agree for us to provide those solutions, from simple helps to more complex renovations.
As for the physical attributes of the home, there is the basic design of it and the general degree of maintenance and upkeep. As with anything, there are going to some homes better able to accommodate people remaining in them as they continue to remain living there and some homes that are going to provide significant challenges for people as those dwellings are currently configured.
Some of the challenges in a home might be the number of steps going into the home from the outside, the width of the doorways inside the home, the floor coverings and the how sturdy the flooring is to walk on, the amount of lighting and whether it illuminates well or casts harsh shadows or creates hot spots within a room, how easy or difficult it is to grasp door knobs and drawer pulls, how easy it is to go from one room in the home to another without encountering obstacles, and whether the home is on one level or more than one.
Then there is the feeling of well-being or the challenges that come from using various aspects of the home such as the appliances, closets, electrical outlets, wall switches, water faucets, tubs and showers, toilets, windows, or controls such as the thermostat. Just getting items from the pantry or kitchen cabinets can be challenging if they aren’t designed well for the occupants.
Safety can relate to how comfortable or confident someone is in moving about in their home and functioning well in it. When a home is particularly challenging for someone, they don’t feel very secure about living in it – not from the fear of someone breaking in but just not having a good feeling about being in their home. In short, their home is not treating them well. These physical characteristics of a home, and how well the home has been maintained over the years, have a direct bearing on how well people are able to live in and use their home and go about the various daily activities they have. These all contribute to how safe someone feels in their home.
Safety is a composite picture that takes into account someone’s mental and emotional well-being from living in their home, their freedom from imminent injury from unsafe items, furnishings, or components in the home, their comfort level in being in and living in their home, how convenient various items and fixtures are to use, and how physically secure they feel from being in their dwelling.
These are some of the challenges we need to be prepared to observe and address as well for our clients. Establishing a safe living environment is a large task.