If you were expecting a new baby, the entire household would be aflutter with activity as everyone rushes to baby proof the home by removing all sharp edges, uncomfortable surfaces, tripping hazards, open windows and sundry other threats to baby life.
Yet we don’t do the same extensive “senior proofing” when our loved ones get older – except perhaps after the first fall or scare.
That’s a shame because it’s actually pretty easy and affordable to make the home (as well as getting out and about) safer and more comfortable for seniors in Singapore. And it’s obviously best to do it before any incidents happen!
Here’s a guide to where you can find the necessary gear for senior proofing the home in Singapore.
What kinds of problems do the elderly face?
The biggest concern that most Singaporeans have is fall prevention, because that’s usually the first big hint (OK, more like a sledgehammer) that Mom or Dad may need some help at home.
But even before the first fall, seniors may already be facing issues in daily life. For example, lots of older folks find it hard to get in and out of chairs and beds that are too low – even going to the toilet can be a challenge.
Things like eyesight, muscle strength, flexibility, and coordination are all weakening at the same time, so normal tasks like opening a jar of kaya or going to the bathroom at night without walking into obstacles can get increasingly tough.
Then there’s the whole business of getting out of the house. Many seniors have weaker legs, which means that standing and walking around can be fatiguing, even painful. My grandma is still strong at walking, but even she has a lot of trouble getting in and out of cars and going up and down stairs because of knee issues.
What should you do to “senior proof” the home?
It’s always best to hear straight from your loved ones about what improvements they would like. If that doesn’t work, you may wish to contact an occupational therapist who can professionally assess your home and your loved ones’ needs.
Based on this article by the Building & Construction Authority, some of the common home improvements you can do for seniors are:
- Grab bars wherever the person may need assistance staying balanced / getting up
- Non-slip flooring for wet areas, especially bathroom and kitchen
- Replace conventional twist-style taps with lever taps
- Move light & power switches to a comfortable height & replace with large, easy-touch switches
- Increase overall lighting throughout the home (the elderly need about 2x to 3x more light compared to a younger person)
- Replace conventional doorknobs with lever handles
- Add contrasting colour or reflective strips for potential hazards, e.g. kerbs
This is in addition to any home reorganisation you can do for specific needs, for example, moving items in storage to a more accessible level and clearing the walkways of potential obstacles.
Below are five resources and stores to get you started:
HDB EASE programme
If you’re a Singapore citizen and living in an HDB flat, the most cost-effective way to start “senior proofing” your home is with the HDB’s EASE (Enhancement for Active Seniors) programme.
This is typically a package of minor home enhancements: Nonslip treatment for the existing floor, installation of grab bars, and ramps for kerbs/steps. The programme is heavily subsidised, so you’d pay only the following amount:
|HDB flat size||Cost of HDB EASE package|
|1- to 3-room||$125 to $192|
|4-room||$187.50 to $288|
|5-room||$250 to $384|
|Executive||$312.50 to $480|
If your household qualifies, you do NOT need to wait for your block of flats to be selected for HIP upgrading to benefit from EASE. You can apply for EASE online anytime you like to arrange for a site survey and installation.
For more about HDB’s EASE programme, read our guide here.
At this price, it’s not a surprise that the EASE package is pretty basic and focuses mainly on fall prevention and wheelchair-friendliness.
Other common issues, such as trouble getting around or sitting down/getting up are not really addressed. But those can be fixed easily with well-designed furniture and accessories, and do not really renovation works anyway.
The Golden Concepts
You may find the odd walking stick at Watsons or Guardian, but for a really comprehensive range of everything you might possibly need to make life better for your loved ones, you have to go to The Golden Concepts.
I like how they source for products that are stylish rather than being plain “geriatric”. For example, over in the bathroom section, there are actually designer-looking brushed steel grab bars ($75) which definitely look like an upgrade over the standard $21 plastic ones, and they stock colourful portable walking canes from The Cane Collective (from $39). Gotta age in style, right?
The Golden Concepts’ most interesting product is this swivel cushion ($39), which helps older folks get in and out of cars easily especially when combined with this car handle grip ($49). I can’t explain this in words; you’ll have to watch the video of the ah ma getting out of the car yourself.
TGC has an Ubi showroom that’s open daily so you can test the products. Delivery varies from product to product and is free for orders above $100; you can also opt to self-collect from their warehouse for free.
This online store is very far from The Golden Concepts in terms of slickness and user experience, but if you like some of the products that TGC has, you should definitely take a look at SeniorCare.com.sg.
SeniorCare has a smaller range of products but you can actually find some TGC items for cheaper on here. For example, that cool $39 swivel chair I was talking about? It’s only $25.50 on SeniorCare. They also have an $89 brushed steel grab bar that’s retailing at $138 on TGC.
Apart from that, I couldn’t find much difference in terms of pricing and range for walking canes, walkers, wheelchairs. SeniorCare doesn’t have many household products, but they do have a good range of really cheap pressure-relieving memory foam cushions (from $9.90).
Delivery, again, depends on the bulkiness of your item. For small items, it’s cheap – just $4 – and shipping is free on orders $150 and above. You can also collect from the warehouse in Woodlands for free.
As its name suggests, Rehab Mart specialises in equipment and products that you’d use in a rehabilitative care situation – think exercise equipment for physiotherapy and hospital-style beds.
One good thing about Rehab Mart is that it has a few physical outlets – Chinatown, Balestier, Paya Lebar and Upper Thomson – so you can view the items in person, which may be quite useful for certain things like wheelchairs, walkers and walking sticks.
Bear in mind that the products at Rehab Mart aren’t cheap though, but that’s how it is with most products marketed as “medical” equipment.
I wouldn’t recommend IKEA as the first place to go for your “senior proofing” needs, but if you happen to be going to the Swedish furniture megastore, you may want to check out their new Omtanksam collection.
This is a special series of daily household items like cushions, dinnerware and even plant pots that are designed for accessibility. Items range from a $1.90 “jar opener” to this $849 sofa that’s designed to be easy to get in and out of. IKEA also sells really cheap grab bars (under $10!) which are stylish too.
While at IKEA, I would also recommend looking at the lighting section. Bright light is important for making the home safe for older folks, and an easy way of improving the lighting conditions at home (short of a complete renovation) is to upgrade the light bulbs of existing fixtures to brighter LEDs.
Also, consider getting “accessory lights” like night lights, LED strips and/or lamps to illuminate the darker spots around the house.
Have you done anything to make the home safer for your folks? Share your tips with us in the comments.