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Make a Home Safe for Older Folks

Easy upgrades for older homeowners

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Find Out How it Feels to Have an Old HandFamily Handyman

Find Out How it Feels to Have an Old Hand

Want to know what it's like to have stiff or arthritic joints? Hold a tennis ball in the palm of your hand and stick your hand inside a sock. Now walk around and try to manipulate the switches, doorknobs and cabinet pulls in your house. Plus: 11 Safety Tips for Doing DIY Work Alone

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shower grab bar

Safety Handrails: A Showerhead Grab Bar is a Big Help

For people with limited mobility or who prefer to shower while seated, a handheld showerhead is a terrific help. And even better is a handheld showerhead on a sliding rail that allows for individual adjustment. But because those rails are often flimsy, grabbing one could be a disaster. Look for an ADA-compliant grab bar with a sliding handheld showerhead. Here are 20 additional tips for creating a safe home for older family members and guests.

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Widen Doorways With Offset HingesFamily Handyman

Widen Doorways With Offset Hinges

Navigating narrow doorways is tough for someone using a wheelchair or walker. Doorways can be widened, but it's a complex and costly job. An easier solution is to replace the existing hinges with expandable offset door hinges. These special hinges are designed to swing the door clear of the opening and add 2 in. of clearance. The hinge measures 2 in. x 3-1/2 in. and wraps around the door trim. You need at least 3 in. between the inside of the doorjamb and the adjoining wall for the hinges to fit. They use the existing holes and screws and come in a variety of finishes. Available online and at many home centers for about $5 per hinge.

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Replace Toggle Switches With Rocker SwitchesPhoto: Courtesy of Lutron

Replace Toggle Switches With Rocker Switches

It's easier for stiff or arthritic hands to press flat, rocker-style switches than to manipulate toggles. Rocker switches feature a big on/off plate that you can operate with a finger, a knuckle or even an elbow. Some rocker switches are illuminated to make them easy to find day or night. These great little inventions use a tiny bit of electricity from the circuit they're on to light a small LED or neon bulb, and they install as easily as regular switches.
Photo provided by Lutron

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Replace Cabinet Knobs With HandlesFamily Handyman

Replace Cabinet Knobs With Handles

Arthritis and stiff joints make grabbing small round knobs on cabinet drawers and doors difficult too. Replace these small knobs with C- or D-shaped pulls, which let you tuck your fingers around them, making it easier to open the door or drawer. Consider this for your own kitchen too. Adding new pulls and handles is a quick, inexpensive way to update a kitchen while making it more comfortable and convenient to use over the long term.

Plus: 18 Inspiring Inside-Cabinet Door Storage Ideas

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Extend Stair RailsChristopher Edwin Nuzzaco/Shutterstock

Extend Stair Rails

The handrails for exterior stairs typically end at the bottom step. But stepping off the bottom step (or preparing to step up on it) is actually when someone is the most off balance and likely to fall. Simple Rail handrail kits from Simplified Building make it easy for DIYers to build an extended handrail that fits any stairway. The kits use Kee Klamp pipe fittings and come with all the components you need (such as fittings, pipe, connectors and railings) at reasonable prices. Visit simplifiedbuilding.com to see exactly what you need to accomplish your project and a gallery showing hundreds of customer-built projects. Photo provided by Simplified Building Plus: 10 Ways to Prevent Slips, Trips, and Falls at Home

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Raise Your Washer and DryerFamily Handyman

Raise Your Washer and Dryer

To make it easier on aging backs and knees, set your front-loading washing machines and dryers on pedestals 12 to 15 in. above the floor. Learn how to build a simple washer/dryer pedestal.

Photo provided by Maytag

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Safety Handrails: Install 'Invisible' Grab BarsFamily Handyman

Safety Handrails: Install 'Invisible' Grab Bars

Sometimes people are reluctant to add grab bars because they think it will make their home look institutional. But you can find stylish and sturdy grab bars in many shapes, sizes and finishes, and some, like those in the elegant Invisia Collection, serve double duty as towel racks, toilet paper holders, corner shelves and more. Visit invisiacollection.com or search for "designer grab bars" and "specialty grab bars" in your browser. Plus: 9 Clever and Useful Bathroom Storage Tips

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Safety Handrails: Add Shower Grab Bars and Do the Yank TestFamily Handyman

Safety Handrails: Add Shower Grab Bars and Do the Yank Test

A securely fastened grab bar can be the difference between a momentary slip and a hip-breaking fall. The best location for grab bars depends on the needs of the person who'll be using them, so ask before you install them. General guidelines call for a vertical bar at the tub edge and an angled bar on the long back wall of the tub. A 24-in. grab bar positioned at a 45-degree angle will attach easily to wall studs. If you can't anchor to a stud, you can secure wood blocking between the studs. If you're lucky, you'll be able to go through a closet or storage area behind the tub so the wall patch won't have to be perfect. After you're done installing a grab bar, do the yank test by pulling on the bar with all your strength. Make sure the bar will hold up when it's really needed. Read our detailed grab bar installation instructions.

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Replace Doorknobs With LeversFamily Handyman

Replace Doorknobs With Levers

Gripping and twisting a doorknob can be hard for people with arthritis or a loss of dexterity in their hands. Lever handles solve that problem. You simply press down on the lever to release the door latch without gripping anything. In fact, an elbow or forearm will work too, which is nice when you're carrying things. Many lever handles are reversible, which means they'll fit both a right-handed or left-handed door. (Handedness is determined by which side the door hinges are on when you stand outside the door as it swings away from you into the room.) But check the handle requirements before you buy so you get the right handle for your situation.

Plus: 10 Tips for Easier DIY When You Work by Yourself

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Add a Rolling Cart to Your KitchenPhoto provided by John Boos

Add a Rolling Cart to Your Kitchen

A rolling cart is helpful in any kitchen, but it's especially helpful for older cooks. It's a convenient prep center, and models with drawers or shelves allow someone to store frequently used items and roll it around so their tools are always close at hand. And it can be extremely useful for someone with diminished strength or dexterity to ferry items to and from the table without the risk of dropping things or injuring themselves. Plus: Quick and Clever Kitchen Storage Ideas

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Safety Handrails: Add Grab Bars Near Exterior DoorsPhoto: Courtesy of Prima

Safety Handrails: Add Grab Bars Near Exterior Doors

Grab bars aren't just helpful in the bathroom; they're also useful near exterior doors, inside and out. For people who are unsteady on their feet, the simple act of opening a door can be difficult. A grab bar gives them something to hang onto near house and garage entrances and steps. The Prima Outdoor Grab Bar shown is made of weatherproof plastic with an aluminum core and special soft grip moldings that reduce the risk of a user's hands slipping even when it's wet. It can be mounted horizontally, vertically or diagonally and costs $40 at elderstore.com.

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Install Low-Pile CarpetFamily Handyman

Install Low-Pile Carpet

Thick carpet pile over a thick pad is the worst for anyone who is unstable walking—it increases the likelihood of tripping and falling. It also makes it more difficult to push and maneuver wheelchairs and walkers. To make getting around easier, consider installing a low-profile commercial-grade “level loop” or “cut pile” carpet with a pile height of no more than 1/2 in. and a 1/4-in. (10-lb. density) pad. Plus: 11 Ways to Make Your Carpet Last

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Safety Handrails: Install Handrails in HallwaysPhoto provided by PromenAid

Safety Handrails: Install Handrails in Hallways

Long hallways can be tough on people with limited mobility, which is the reason so many senior care centers have continuous handrail systems. Consider adding the same safety feature at home. You can install a simple wooden railing or consider the PromenAid handrail system, a problem-solving product that has a unique bracket that slides along an open channel in the bottom of the handrail. This lets you locate the handrail anywhere and slide the brackets to wherever studs are located without adding extra blocking. The brackets also pivot so you can install the handrail vertically or at an angle. These elegant handrails have snap-on end caps and returns, and the articulating joints allow them to go around corners or along stairs. You can buy complete kits or individual components at promenaid.com. Just make sure any handrail you install has returns.

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Get LED LightbulbsFamily Handyman

Get LED Lightbulbs

The average home has 40 lightbulbs. Changing a burnt-out bulb often involves climbing a ladder or step stool and risking a nasty fall. If you replace those lightbulbs with CFLs, or even better, LEDs, there's a good chance they'll never have to be changed again in that homeowner's lifetime.

Plus: Your Storm Survival Guide