As we get older and remain in our homes longer, we can sometimes fail to appreciate how our aging might affect our abilities. Not needing to be frightened about remaining in our homes and navigating within them well, but being prudent about changes that can happen, we need to be aware that sometimes we might undertake tasks because we have been accustomed to doing them for years but now find that our abilities have changed a little – making that activity potentially unsafe.
This isn’t a general issue that applies to everyone, but it’s common enough that we need to be aware of this in our own homes and in the homes of our clients as we work with them and design for their ultimate safety.
Slippery flooring that may be partially concealed by glare or reflections (or scatter rugs and bath mats), shelves or cabinets that require a significant amount of stretching or reaching to access items that are in or on them, getting on or off the toilet, rising or going to bed. or sitting at the table or in front of the TV are activities that we have done for years. However now – whether we are using any type of assistive device or not – those same activities may not be as safe for us to do as they were. In the past, we likely went about such activities without giving them any thought at all. However, now, they can present some safety concerns.
It’s when we approach tasks in the home without any thought or planning before acting that injuries can happen. At younger ages, we would do most anything that seemed like a good idea at the time without pausing to consider what could possibly go wrong with that action that might cause us to misjudge its location, slip from it, lose our balance, or otherwise end up in a compromising position and possibly suffering an injury in the process. We likely didn’t consider how moving one object might cause others to move along with it in the process and not be prepared to handle those additional materials or the impact of such an action.
Just because our homes are so familiar to us 5 and have become such a dear friend over the years, they still are inanimate and can not caution us when we are about to undertake some risky action. It would be great if our homes could remind us not to use that chair as a ladder to reach a high shelf or to be careful of the slippery floor that was covered by a scatter rug and not well-anchored. We would be grateful if our homes would caution us about climbing too high on a ladder or reaching too far to the side to retrieve something and suggest that we reposition it or ask for assistance in reaching it. Sometimes our impatience in needing something now will cause us to behave in an unsafe way when the more prudent action would be to wait until someone else could help us.
It’s not just the advancing years that contribute to changing abilities although reaction times can slow over the years. Our senses – vision and hearing – and our balance and coordination can diminish. Often we won’t even be aware of the changes because they have happened slowly and gradually over time. There may come a point, however, when the cumulative effect is quite noticeable and we fall as we attempt to balance on the top rung of a ladder or step from a table or stool we were using for additional height onto another surface and misjudge the effort needed to do so and the height differential. We had been used to doing this in the past but now find that we are at risk by doing so – often without realizing it in advance.
It would be great if we could just add another decade to our present age and notice no difference in ability – still being able to walk or run as fast as we did, play golf or tennis the same, and do handyman repairs around the house with the same energy. Quite likely this will not be the case. When we add that second decade of years, the differences can become more pronounced – not with everyone, but the potential is there for a decline in ability.
Just because we have always been able to do something, or we feel that something is within our ability, doesn’t mean that it is a safe activity for us today. We need to assess each situation and approach it with caution – looking for things we might not have expected or anticipated if we had just jumped right into it. Taking a step back will not hurt, and it may save us an injury.