Sunday, February 08, 2009

Organizing for Senior Independence

The First Families are following a growing national trend. Both President Obama and Vice President Biden will be living with a parent in their homes. The aging of Baby Boomers and the demands of the current economic environment have driven an increase in multi-generational residences.

Another trend is for senior citizens to live independently in their own homes well into their eighties and nineties.

Whether living alone or with extended family, older adults may have specific needs and limitations that challenge them to evaluate how things are organized. Appropriately arranged space and access-friendly systems can greatly enhance independence for senior citizens whether they live alone or with others.

February is National Senior Independence Month. So it is a good time for seniors and those who love and care for them to take a look at their living quarters and determine if they are organized to promote independence. Here are a few things to look for.

Are open spaces wide enough to walk through and free of obstructions? Have clear wide walk-through spaces between frequently traveled areas like the kitchen and the family room, the bathroom and the bedroom. Remove any items that might be tripped over. Tuck ottomans against chairs and fit fireplace utensils well back against the hearth. Make sure there is enough room to maneuver a cane, walker or wheel chair if necessary. Remember it takes a full sixty inches for a standard wheel chair to turn fully around in a circle.

Can medicines and necessary daily supplies be accessed without help? This can be tricky if there are young children in the house to whom these supplies may pose a danger. Check web sites like and for products like the Medicine Safe that safely hold medicines but cannot be opened by toddlers. Of course, potentially hazardous items can be placed on a higher shelf if the senior resident is able to reach it without climbing. One of the keys to safe access is no climbing for frequently used supplies. If there is not enough low storage space, try one of the reach extending tools that allows individuals to grasp items about four feet higher than their reach. These can be found at hardware stores and online at sites like

Can doors and faucets be easily operated? Round doorknobs require more strength and agility to operate than lever doorknobs. Faucets with separate regulators for hot and cold water require more agility than faucets with a single central regulator that goes from hot to cold.

Older adults may face barriers to opening cans, putting on clothing, carrying items from one place to another. Products that promote independence for folks with limitations of movement or sight may be found at,, and Incorporating these aids in the daily routine of seniors may assist them in continuing to lead independent lives in the setting of their choice.

Beverly & Kristen

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