In most homes and situations there are hallways that are too narrow for individuals who use a walking aid, or who need your assistance to walk. Railings are a very helpful aid, but you need to tailor them to the need. Railings on one side are helpful if they always go in one direction… you may notice your parent has a dominant side when they walk. They may always like to hold on to objects with their right hand for example. So having railings on both sides of the hallway is helpful for self-ambulatory parents. Railings are also helpful if they use a walking aid, as the railing is a solid assistant for when they feel a little light-headed or a sudden weakness occurs. If they have a walking device, railings can also be a bumper to keep them from bumping into the wall. It is expensive to buy Nursing Home or Hospital quality hand/wall railings. There are many options for a handrail and, again, if this need is for a limited time you may want to have railings mounted that will not permanently damage your walls. We have a few designs in our “build your own” section that are cost effective and very sturdy. The hallways oftentimes have seams in doorways or loose carpet. Make sure the flooring material is smooth and has no humps or loose material that can catch on the walking aid or feet. Also, if small children are around, they may leave their toys around. Making sure that toys are not left on the floor is important.
If your parent has walking difficulties or uses a walking aid of any type, using a ramp to enter your home will be a helpful and create a safe situation. Ramps can be purchased in different lengths to vary the angle. In our “Do It Yourself” area we have examples and hints for ramp building and installation. Main entrance thresholds are oftentimes a difficult obstacle and some type of support or hand railing will help steady your parent. If they use a walker it will take lifting the walker over the threshold, even if the walker has wheels. Look at this area to determine the best way to make this easy to overcome. In most climates with winter weather conditions, your parent may want a coat or sweater to wear. It is best, if possible, to have them put on the outerwear before getting set to go through the doorway. Your parent may not have the flexibility to raise their arms up, so gently bringing the outer garment up from below waist level will help in getting the garment on easily and safely by letting them position one arm and holding on to a railing or walker with the other arm. Please review the video below for some tips and examples.
Much like a main entrance threshold, transitions in flooring material is a challenge, especially with a walking aid that may be scooted across the floor. If you have differences in height of flooring materials from room to room, you may want to consider adding a transition piece to lessen the differences and make it a much safer situation. Sometimes a simple metal transition strip found in any hardware store will be easy and quick for almost any homeowner to install. Additionally, wooden transition strips can be easily made to compensate for large differences in height. Please review our DIY section to see examples and techniques in making and installing your own. Stairways are always a challenge for the elderly parent. It is very important to have railings on both sides of the wall in any stepping situation. On an outside swinging screen door there needs to be enough room on the landing for them to move out of the door’s path, or you may want to consider removing the storm door if your parent will be entering through the doorway frequently. If you do not want to remove the screen door, take a look at possibly using the “hold open” function found on many pneumatic door closing systems to make the door less of an obstacle to getting around. If your parent has to ascend or descend stairs regularly and/or if they have difficulties, you may wish to investigate a motorized lifting system, where your parent can sit comfortably while the drive system moves them up and down the staircase.
It is important in hallways and stairways to have good lighting. Bright lighting helps them locate the steep edges more accurately and safely. Sometimes installing a larger luminescent bulb will help or you can “daisy chain” an additional light. When it comes to lighting stairs, there are a number of options if you have easy access to additional electrical service like outlets close to or on the stairs. Depending on the design of your home, climate conditions and the activity level of your parent, you may wish to consider what type of overhead and shielding covering you have above the walkway on the outside of the home. A good covering makes the walkway as safe as possible (eliminating the accumulation of rain, snow and ice). Having an outside doorway that can be regularly used will make the activity predictable and safer.