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Universal Design is for Everyone!

Home Elevators

Why is society being continuously exposed to advertisements and media campaigns directed at the challenges to which an aging population can relate? Frequent messages that are geared towards products and services that help make aging an enjoyable experience is happening in just about every major city and small town in our developing world, which is creating huge awareness about accessibility.

One in two people will be touched by a disability within their lifetime. Because of this statistic, exposure to advertisements such as buying a “walk in tub” or a “stair-lift” are becoming recognized as common home safety and accessibility solutions. Targeting this type of awareness to a growing aging population addresses the reality of improving our environment in order to age in place. Education about health, personal finances and care options will help us plan proactively for our futures. Proactive planning helps families overcome sudden events like an illness, while reducing slip and fall hazards to avoid further impairment. These common unforeseen tragedies can occur at any age and are manageable and often preventable. Choices made in a proactive manner can help achieve a healthier lifestyle and more comfortable home for people of all abilities to age in. By removing the risks, you can reduce the chances of having a long term disability related to falls.

There are simple ways of removing barriers that will not involve large scale renovations. The broadest concept of accessibility is having the ability to remain independent; this is achieved by removing barriers and preventing barriers in the future. Accessibility is commonly recognized as wheelchair ramps in front of homes, grab bars in bathing areas and buttons that swing doors open for wheel friendly access. Accessibility includes all those things and so much more. For those of us who have fragile bones and issues with balance, a cane or a walker makes it safer to maneuver through physical barriers. Flashing lights that indicate someone is at the front door or that the phone is ringing are examples of adapting our environment to overcome sensory barriers. Reducing clutter is another way to make life more manageable around the home. Perhaps just re-organizing household belongings and simple storage solutions are all that’s needed.

What happens if more elaborate changes are needed to make the home accessible? The first step in this process is to have a needs assessment done by an occupational therapist or other health care professional with experience in adaption to perform activities of daily living. The environmental barriers & physical needs should be analyzed and a report with recommendations be created. Designing the environment to meet all users’ needs is the next step prior to planning the renovation and this should be done by a qualified “universal design” or “barrier free design” specialist.

Before tackling any type of renovation, it’s important to fully understand the scope of work in relation to safety, independence and comfort. Suggestions can be simple ones such as installing grab bars in the washroom, elevating the toilet or converting to a hand held shower wand.  Or, the improvements can be more extensive when an opportunity to create a brand new bathroom, elevator or kitchen is advisable. However whether the modifications are large or small, they can truly end up making accessible living more enjoyable and have a large positive impact on those who choose to remain in their homes as they age.

Although our homes may be accessible, when we venture outside of them, there are a number of barriers that remain. While there have been successes in making public environments more accessible, there continues to be inconsistency – some environments are barrier-free, some partly accessible and some not accessible at all.  An example is the public transportation system. We still have to rely on a separate system within public transportation or hire private transportation services for those of us who can’t use the available routes to get to where we need to be.

We are beginning to implement new strategies to help sustain our future and prepare for our changing needs. While these messages may seem overwhelming at first, it does not mean that if we become “touched by disability” that we can no longer enjoy fulfilling lives.  Whether it’s an accident, injury or illness that changes the way we do things, it does not mean that we will lose the ability to have quality and enjoyment in our lives. Indeed, by making our environments accessible, we can continue to live with dignity and independence.

There is a growing awareness of the need for accessibility within the larger community to help make life more manageable for those of us living with disabilities.  For example, there are many more ramps, automatic doors, traffic lights that make sounds so that people with visual impairments can cross the streets with greater independence and safety.  Many movie theatres are more accessible and we can negotiate for accessible seating when we go to the concert hall, ballet or opera.

All of the ways in which barriers have been removed or are in the process of being removed in our public and private areas, makes our lives much more manageable and improves the quality of our lives today and into our futures as well. Making all environments accessible will certainly enhance and enrich the lives of the “one out of two of us who is affected by a disability”.

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Elders at Risk of Falls – By Dr. Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D.

Guest Post By Dr. Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D.

Avoiding Falls in Elderly

People of all ages fall, but falls are more common for older people. In fact, losing balance and falling down is probably the most common accident that happens to older adults. Although most people are not usually harmed when they fall, the more falls an individual has, the greater the chance of injury. If you do get hurt, the result can harm your health, your sense well being, and your independence.

Some people believe that falls are a normal part of aging, and as such are not preventable. But this is false. Falls usually are caused by certain health conditions (due to normal physical changes of aging or from illness) and/or environmental hazards in the home interfering with safety. In most of cases, falls do not have to happen. Many of the causes of falling are preventable, but only if action is taken. As obvious as it may sound, a lack of knowledge about the causes of falling and how to prevent them contributes to falling.

“It’s important to understand that falling is not a normal part of aging. In order to stop falls from happening, it will help you to understand who is at greatest risk and why. While anyone can fall, there are certain conditions or situations putting older individuals at higher risk”.


Poor Eyesight. This can keep people from seeing hazards and objects in their path, and lead to trips or slips. Common eye conditions include cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma. When combined with poor lighting, eye disorders interfere with safe mobility and increase the likelihood of falling.

Walking and Balance Problems.

Disorders such as stroke, arthritis, diabetes, and neurological disease may affect muscle strength and reaction time. As a result, balance may not be quite the same as it was.

Use of Medications.

Taking too much medication or the wrong combination of drugs can sometimes affect judgment, coordination and balance.

Depression or Stress.

This often causes people to pay less attention and be less alert to surrounding dangers in the environment.

Lack of exercise.

Inactivity results in weakened muscles, and lack of flexibility. This can change people’s balance and the way they walk and increase the chances of falling.

Preventing Falls
The good news is that many falls are preventable. By taking some simple steps elders can greatly reduce their chances of falling.

Doctor Visits

  • Get regular physical exams even if you’re feeling fine.
  • Ask the doctor to review your medications for any side effects that can affect balance. Make sure the doctor knows about all the medications you are taking (both prescription and over-the-counter drugs) so that harmful combinations of drugs can be prevented.
  • Tell the doctor about any falls or balance problems you may have experienced. The doctor may want to check you out for any medical conditions.

Stay Active

  • A regular program of physical activity is one of the best ways to decrease your chances of falling and improve your sense of well being and confidence.
  • Try to include such activities as walking, dancing, gardening, and stretching exercises to improve flexibility and balance.


Checklist for Spotting and Correcting Home Safety Hazards

At least half of all falls happen at home and generally take place when doing ordinary things like walking on stairs, getting up from bed or going to the bathroom. The best way to deal with any threats to safety in the home is through prevention. It’s a good idea to check your home for hazards that frequently cause slips, trips, or falls and eliminate as many potentially trouble spots as possible. By making your home safe now, you can avoid a fall later.



Hazard Solution
  • Keep lights on in rooms that you are walking through. The lighting in your home must be bright so you can avoid tripping over objects that are not easy to see.
  • Consider a nightlight for dark passageways.
  • During the day, open curtains and shades to let more sunlight in.
  • Install extra lighting along the pathway from bedroom to bathroom, by steps and stairways.


FLOOR SURFACESSliding Throw Rugs   Up-ended/Curled Carpet Edges 
  • Check all rugs and mats to make sure they are slip-resistant.
  • Consider either buying new rugs with non-slip backing or applying nonskid matting to backs of existing rugs to make them secure.


  • Use carpet tape to keep carpet edges from curling up.
  • All pathways should be clear of objects and furnishings.
  • Make sure stairs are well lit and free of clutter.
  • Use stairway handrails for going up or down steps.
  • Pick up things on the stairs. Always keep objects off stairs and steps.



Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D., PA-C (or Dr Rein as he is commonly referred to) is the president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, NJ, a consulting company that provides educational, legal and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr Tideiksaar is a gerontologist (health care professional who specializes in working with elderly patients) and a geriatric physician’s assistant. He has been active in the area of fall prevention for over 30 years, and has directed numerous research projects on falls and has developed fall prevention programs in the community, assisted living, home care, acute care hospital, and nursing facility setting. To learn more, check out the Doctor’s professional profile on LinkedIn: If you have any questions about preventing falls, please feel free to email Dr. Tideiksaar at