Senior Living Resources Lutheran Senior Services
Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place: Stairways and Hallways

Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place: Stairways and Hallways

Do you want to live independently in your own home as long as you can?  This is important to the majority of aging Americans. However, not all homes are suitable for individuals with physical limitations or disabilities, especially in areas where there are more older homes.

Picture this scenario: You are home alone and working in the kitchen when you hear the buzzer on the washing machine go off in the basement. You walk to the basement door, open it, and proceed down the stairs. Suddenly, you trip in the dark stairwell, fall down the stairs, and injure your leg. You are now immobile, essentially trapped in a dark basement with no access to a phone.

It is a scary situation older residents can find themselves in due to the design of some homes. Many have cluttered stairways adjacent to the kitchen, limited access to light switches in the basement, and limited access to a phone — all design elements that are not common outside newly constructed homes.

But this troubling scenario could possibly be prevented with careful planning.  A key to aging in place and living independently is making sure your home can accommodate your needs, as well as those of anyone in the house with you.

This guide is meant to help you think about what the stairways and hallways in your home may need as you and your loved ones age to keep them safe and accessible.

Area to Focus On: Stairways

As you age, stairways can become a big barrier to accessing critical areas of the home — like bedrooms, bathrooms, storage areas, and the washer and dryer. Take a good, long look at the stairway(s) in your home, and ask yourself these critical questions:

  • Are the stairs completely stable? This means no loose boards or railings.
  • Can you clearly see the edge of each step? If not, consider adding reflective tape or painting the edges.
  • Is there a railing on both sides? Most often, one railing is not enough but that is all many home stairways have. And if they do have two railings, one stops short of going all the way to the floor to make rounding the corner at the bottom of the steps quicker. Having two railings is truly the safer option as you age because people are often stronger on one side of their body. So, having just one railing means you can only use your strong side when ascending or descending the stairs —not both.
  • Do the railings go all the way to the flat floor? If not, consider extending them.
  • Do you have enough upper-body strength to use stairs? If not, you may have to consider installing a ramp or stair lift.
  • Is the stairway free of clutter? In many homes, the bottom or top of the staircase is used like a closet to hang jackets or to pile things that need to go up or down the stairs. This can be a tripping hazard, so it is best to keep this area totally clear.
  • Is the stairway well-lit? Many homes do not have light switches at the bottom of the steps. In a basement, this may require the homeowner to walk in the darkness to a pull-style light somewhere in the basement for more light. This is not ideal. If this sounds like your home, consider having lights and switches installed at both the top and bottom of the stairs. Motion-activated lights can be an even better option.
  • Are the light bulbs in the stairway easily accessible? A lot of older homes have tall ceilings, making light fixtures difficult to access if a bulb needs to be changed. Extension ladders can be dangerous, so move high fixtures down, purchase a telescoping pole designed for changing light bulbs, or hire someone to help.
  • Is there a phone at the base of the stairs? If not, consider having one installed. You can make sure to always carry your cell phone or have a smart speaker nearby.  The important question to answer is: How would you call for help?

Check the Hallways

Another area of the home that could be dangerous if left unchecked can be your hallway(s). Below is a checklist of questions you want to run through while evaluating a hallway.

  • Are the hallways free of clutter and trip hazards? Look for things like loose cords, uneven boards, or tiles. Remove anything you could stub your toes or slip on.
  • Is the hallway well-lit? Even if you have a good light in the hallway that can be turned on via a switch, you may still want lighting for your feet — especially for walking at night when you do not want to use a bright hallway light. Consider adding motion-sensor,  automatic lights that can go in outlets by your feet. They can be inexpensive and hassle-free.
  • Are there light switches at both ends of the hallway? If not, consider adding them.
  • Is there a rug in the hallway? If so, be honest with yourself about whether or not it could become a trip hazard. It is OK to have a decorative rug, as long as it is attached to the floor well and is not very thick.
    • Does the rug have any raised edges or rolls? If so, it is a trip hazard.
    • Can the rug slide?
    • Does the rug have a non-slip base? The best bases are made of rubber, adhere to the bottom of the rug, and extend from edge to edge. It is best to go to a rug or flooring store with the exact dimensions of your rug and have a rubber base cut to those exact dimensions.

It could also be a smart choice to add handrails that extend down the hallway if your home allows for it. Even if you do not need them now, you might if you become disabled or injured. They can provide stability and even act as a guide when the lighting is dim.  In addition, installing rocker-style light switches — whether in a stairway or hallway — can be a good option for those with disabilities or arthritis. They are easier to use, and some are even illuminated.

Lutheran Senior Services offers a full range of life planned at home services for aging adults:

  • Information and Referral
  • Care Management
  • Private Home Care
  • Home Health Care
  • Hospice Care
  • Palliative Care
  • PACE

Call Aging Answers for more information at 314.446.2475.

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