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Aging in Place at Home: The Definitive Guide Part 10


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Maintenance

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As range of motion, balance, dexterity, vision, and muscle tone decline with age, maintaining a neat and tidy house is overwhelming to accomplish without some help. Too many tasks are simply outside of the abilities of those trying to age in place: lugging around a heavy vacuum, stretching arms to reach a light bulb, etc.

Rather than shirking difficult chores and letting the house fall into disrepair, take advantage of the numerous innovative solutions in this section that are designed to ease the heavy burden of keeping up with household duties.


Grabber tool


Purpose

A grabber tool is one of the most versatile assistive devices that significantly helps those who cannot reach items due to a bad back, shoulder problems, poor balance, and limited reach.

Reacher tool

Those who cannot bend down to pick up items can use a grabber to retrieve what they need while still standing. Users unable to lift their arms above shoulder height can access shelves and tall storage areas with a grabber tool. Wheelchair users with limited reach can greatly benefit from using a grabber tool.

A grabber tool can help users get dressed, do yardwork, and perform other tasks at home or while on the go.


Must-have Features

Full-hand pull trigger – Most reacher tools feature a two-finger pull trigger at the handle that operates the claw.

Grabber tool with two-finger pull trigger

Two-finger trigger

The problem with a two-finger pull trigger is that it effectively splits the user’s hand in a way that reduces grip strength.

This reduced grip strength makes it difficult to keep the two-finger trigger depressed as long as needed to successfully retrieve an item.

Grabber tool with full-hand pull trigger

Full-hand trigger

Therefore, it is very important that the grabber tool have a larger pull trigger that uses can squeeze with their full hands.

A full-hand pull trigger maximizes the user’s hand strength, making the grabber tool more effective and ergonomic.


Lightweight – How heavy a grabber tool is plays a large part in its functionality. While steel and other heavy-duty materials may bolster a reacher’s durability, they detract from its usability.

Most users need a well-made, but lightweight, grabber tool that doesn’t require substantial arm strength to hold and operate. Aluminum and plastic are the ideal materials because they can be both durable and lightweight.

With that being said, shorter grabbers made of steel may still be light enough to be suitable for users.


Reacher tool with rubber claw gripRubber claw grip – The grip inside of the grabber’s claw should be made of rubber or some other non-slip material so items are less likely to slip out of the claw’s grip.

Only purchase a grabber if it has a rubber or rubber-like surface for the gripping part of the claw.


Wide claw opening – It’s impossible to predict all the different items a user might want to retrieve with a reacher tool, but finding a grabber with a wide-opening claw is a smart way to maximize its uses.

The wider the claw opening, the larger the items the reacher can grab. The difference of an inch or two in the claw opening could have a big impact on the usefulness of the grabber tool.


Features to consider

Grabber tool with magnetic tipMagnetic tip – Many times the smallest of items, which can be the hardest to pick up, are made of metal. So some manufacturers wisely added a magnetic tip at the end of their grabbers’ claws to make picking up small metal objects like coins, keys, and jewelry incredibly easy.

Rather than attempting to pinch the object with the grabber claw, users only need to hover the built-in magnet over the item to pick it up.

A magnetic tip is a very useful feature that users should highly consider when shopping for a grabber tool.


Length – The length of the reacher should be suitable for the user’s abilities and address the user’s needs.

Short grabbers (18 to 24 inches long) – Short grabbers are best for close range use such as retrieving items on a table while the user is seated and getting something from a nightstand while the user is in bed.

Short grabbers can afford to be a little heavier than longer grabbers because the weight is concentrated closer to the user, making it easier to hold and control.


Medium grabbers (26 to 32 inches long) – Medium-length grabbers are the most versatile of all lengths.

For the average user, medium grabbers are best suited for picking up items off the ground from a standing position and accessing tall storage areas. Find a medium grabber that is made of aluminum or plastic; these materials give good durability while reducing the weight of the grabber.

This balance between length and weight makes medium grabbers good for yardwork and other more robust tasks.


Long grabbers (34 or more inches long) – Long grabbers are ideal for getting items that are stashed away in storage or some other hard to reach location.

Because long grabbers hold items the farthest away from the user, long grabbers can be unwieldy and difficult to maneuver. Furthermore, bringing items to the free hand with a long grabber can be difficult because of the arm span needed to reach the end of the grabber.

A long grabber is typically used to place an item on a table or other counter surface where the operator can then pick it up by hand. Use long grabbers to access objects that are very high, very low, and tucked away.


Many users buy grabbers of various lengths so they have the appropriate length available when needed.


Adjustable angle claw – Some grabbers have claws that can be adjusted to different angles to help the user with retrieving things.

Grabber tool with swivel clawTypically the way to adjust the claw angle is to pull the claw, swivel it to the desired angle, and push the claw back down onto the shaft. Adjusting the claw angle can help the reacher to fit in tight areas and better grab hold of certain items the user is trying to retrieve.

An adjustable claw can make a grabber tool even more usable.


Features to avoid

Folds up – While grabbers that fold up are easier to carry and take up less storage space, they fail to perform as well as non-folding grabbers. The hinge along the reacher’s body that folds is a weak point for the reacher that can inadvertently give way and cause the reacher to fail while in use.

Avoid fold-up units and stick to conventional grabbers.


Adjustable length – Adjustable length reachers may seem like a good option, but they suffer from the same quality deficiencies as fold-up grabbers. The locking collar on adjustable length reachers is a weak point that is prone to breaking, which not only renders the adjustable length feature useless, but also can completely disrupt the function of the grabber.

The adjustable length feature is a problematic add-on that users should avoid.


What to know before buying

To avoid the unfortunate situation of not having a grabber nearby when one is dearly needed, consider investing in several grabbers of various sizes to place in commonly-used locations throughout the home.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Step stool


Purpose

Step stools help users safely access tall shelving and storage areas that are otherwise out of reach. Even heights that are seemingly accessible may still be too far away for those with limited reach due to back, shoulder, and neck problems.

A step stool can provide just enough of a boost to safely access tall areas throughout the home without having to strain and risk injury from losing balance or overstretching.


Must-have Features

Step stool with tall handleTall handle – A tall handle gives users a better way to carry a step stool than having to bend down and lift it up from the floor. Although a handle affixed to the side of a step stool increases the overall width, the slightly larger footprint is a small price to pay for the ability to easily transport the step stool.

A tall handle averts the possibility of falling forward while bending down to pick up or place the step stool. Furthermore, a tall handle gives users some to hold and steady themselves with while they are standing on the step stool. Using a handle for balance goes a long way toward preventing falls.

A step stool with a tall handle is a must.


Non-slip feet – The step stool feet must have non-slip tips to keep the step stool from sliding out from under users.

The non-slip feet should be able to remain secure on any kind of floor, including pavement and other outdoor surfaces.


Non-slip step surface – The top of the step stool must feature a non-slip surface that offers users good traction underfoot while standing on the step stool.

The surface should be made of rubber or some other rubber-like material that is versatile enough to work with all types of shoes, including slippers, socks, and barefoot.


Appropriate weight capacity – Verify that the step stool is rated to support the user’s weight. Generally, standard step stools have a max weight capacity of between 250 and 300 pounds.

Those who need a higher weight capacity should use bariatric step stools, which are typically made of steel and can support up to 500 pounds.


Ideal height – The platform on step stools fluctuates between 8 and 10 inches tall. If a user wants to be as tall as possible, then a 10 inch tall step stool is the best option. On the other hand, some users may have trouble lifting their feet 10 inches high and should go for a shorter step stool.

Choose the step stool height that balances users’ needs with their capabilities.


Features to consider

Step stool with adjustable height handleAdjustable height handle – It’s important that the handle be within reach while standing on the step stool so users can hold onto the handle and steady themselves.

In most cases, the standard handle height is suitable, but some users may want the ability to tweak the handle height to better fit their preferences.

Users can also adjust the handle to a height that makes carrying the step stool more convenient.


Step stool with dual handlesDual handles – Some step stools have two handles to give stability on both sides of the user.

One nice aspect of a dual-handled step stool is that users don’t have to think about how to place the step stool so that there is support on a particular side.

Also, step stools with two handles are better balanced than models with only one handle, making them easier to carry.

For added stability and ease of use, consider a step stool with two handles.


Adjustable height step stool – An adjustable height step stool allows users to set the top platform at whatever height is most suitable.

Step stool with adjustable height stepGenerally, a step stool can only adjust by a couple inches, but that height difference can have a big impact on those who struggle to lift their legs high enough to reach a tall step stool and others who need just an extra inch to be within reaching distance of something.

Without experimenting with step stools at home, it can be hard for users to know the best height to purchase. The adjustable height feature assures users that the step stool won’t be too tall or short.


Features to avoid

Collapsible – As a space-saving measure, some step stools are foldable or collapsible. Unfortunately, collapsible step stools are a safety hazard because if they are not unfolded correctly, then they could give way under the weight of the user.

Even the more reliable collapsible step stools still require users to bend down to fold and unfold the step stool, which is a very difficult task for most users.

Avoid collapsible step stools and stick to the non-folding models.


What to know before buying

The most important thing to know about using a step stool with a handle is to never put any weight on the handle before stepping onto the stool. The handle is meant for maintaining balance while standing on the step stool and for carrying the step stool without having to bend down to pick it up.

Leaning on the handle while mounting and dismounting may cause the step stool to tip over since there is no weight holding it down. As a result, the user may fall and get injured.

Only use the handle for balance support while standing on the step stool; never use the handle to bear weight.


While step stools can be used outdoors, do not leave them outside indefinitely because they can rust if left to deal with the weather.


When the step stool is not in use, store it in a designated storage location in the home that is centrally located and easily accessible. Make a habit of returning the step stool to its designated spot so it doesn’t become a tripping hazard.

Users who live in a multi-story home may consider purchasing a step stool for each level to avoid having to dangerously lug a single step stool up and down stairs repetitively.


Because step stool handles are not meant to bear significant weight, step stools should never be used to help users step over bathtub thresholds.

Those who need assistance with getting in and out of a bathtub should instead use a shower bench or another showering solution along with wall-mounted grab bars.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Cordless 2-in-1 stick and handheld vacuum


Purpose

The typical upright vacuum cleaner weighs up to 20 pounds., boasts a bulky frame, and must be tethered to a wall outlet with a cord. Trying to lug around a hefty vacuum without tripping over the cord is not so easy of a task for aging users who have decreasing levels of balance, coordination, and strength.

2-in-1 stick cordless vacuum

Those who need help keeping up with their periodic cleaning can turn to a lightweight, cordless vacuum for a boost to endurance and safety.


Must-have Features

Multi-surface cleaning – The cordless vacuum should be able to address all kinds of surfaces without causing scratches of scuffs. Some models have a button that changes the brush setting depending on the surface while others have a universal setting that is compatible with all surfaces.

Avoid vacuums that are not suitable to use on certain flooring types.


Lightweight – Find a vacuum that is extremely lightweight, around 5 pounds. or so. Users should be able to easily push the vacuum over thick carpet and even lift the vacuum to clean up high, if necessary.


Bagless – The vacuum should be bagless, so users don’t have to hassle with unloading and replacing bags, a job that involves much fine motor skill.

Make sure the dirt canister is easy to empty; look for a canister that drops dust from the button with a simple push of a button.

Emptying the dirt canister should require very minimal dexterity.

Bagless vacuum


Features to consider

Vacuum attachments

Attachment parts – Some vacuums have special attachments available that connect to the vacuum and help with various types of cleaning.

These attachments can make vacuuming go quicker with better results, too.

Consider the different attachments that are compatible with a vacuum and purchase the ones that can improve the cleaning process.


Features to avoid

Bottom-mounted handheld vacuum – It is important that the detachable handheld vacuum is located at the top of the stick vacuum so that it is easy to remove and replace.

Stick vacuum to handheld vacuum

Avoid 2-in-1 vacuums that place the handheld portion near the bottom of the stick where users must bend down low to detach and reattach.

Bottom-mounted handheld vacuum


Direct charging cord – Make sure the cordless vacuum has a docking station that can always stay plugged into a wall outlet. This set up allows users to merely place the vacuum onto the docking station and the battery charges automatically.

Vacuum with charging base

Some cordless vacuums require users to insert a small power cord into the vacuum in order to charge the battery. And whenever it’s time to clean, users must remember to unplug the power cord from the vacuum. Most problematic is the fact that users must bend down to reach the power cord, which is challenging, if not impossible, for the majority of users.

Direct plug vacuum charge

Avoid vacuums with direct charging cords and opt for models with a permanently plugged-in docking station instead.


What to know before buying

Most cordless vacuums have a pretty short battery life that falls anywhere between 20 to 40 minutes per charge. So, unless users live in a fairly small space, it may take a few charges to cover the whole home.

Users will need to break up their cleaning and charge the vacuum between cleaning sessions. The time to recharge the battery can range from a couple to several hours, so vacuuming an entire home can spread across a day or two.

Spreading the vacuuming out like this can actually be an unexpectedly helpful way for users to pace themselves.


Stick and handheld vacuums are best for light-duty clean-up.

For getting a deep clean, users may be better off having a housekeeper come on an as-needed basis rather than trying to force a stick and handheld vacuum to do any of the heavy lifting.


Be sure to place the docking station in an accessible location so that the vacuum is easy to grab without bending or stretching. Some docking stations mount to the wall while others sit on the ground.

Regardless of the type of docking station, it is very important that the user can retrieve and replace the vacuum with ease.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Step trash can


Purpose

A step trash can allows users to dispose of waste by simply depressing a foot pedal to open the lid. The mess that dirty hands would make when accessing a conventional trash can is avoided with a step trash can.

Also, step trash cans reduce the effort and frustration that often come along with other basic trash cans.

Hands-free means users can carry bigger loads to the trash and reduce the number of trips back and forth. Hands-free also means no more juggling items to free up a hand to open the trash can.


Must-have Features

Recessed pedal – A step trash can with a toe kick keeps the pedal from jutting out into a walkway and becoming a trip hazard.

Housing the pedal within the body of the trash can also gives users more foot space to step onto the pedal.

Step trash can with recessed pedal


Non-skid bottom – A non-skid bottom gives a step trash can traction to keep from sliding around on the floor.

Without this feature, stepping on the foot pedal to open the lid can actually push the trash can backwards. For slower-going users, disposing of waste in a skidding trash can is like trying to hit a moving target; accidents can ensue.

Find a step trash can that stays securely in place when in use.


Features to consider

Air-tight lid – An air-tight lid does a superior job of containing scents, which goes a long way in fighting off potential pests like fruit flies and ants. Plus, subduing those odors certainly freshens up the kitchen for users and guests.

Very few step trash cans offer true air-tight lids, and the feature usually comes at a premium. If the benefit is worth it and there’s room in the budget, then pull the trigger and get a step trash can with an air-tight lid.


Inner bucket – Some trash cans have an inner bucket that serves as the actual waste bucket inside of the outer trash can shell. The benefits of an inner bucket is the convenience it brings to users.

Removable inner trash bucketInstead of bending and reaching to clean inside of a trash can, users can simply remove the lightweight inner bucket and clean it in a more comfortable fashion. If there is ever concern that an overloaded trash bag might leak or tear on the way to taking it outside, users can carry the entire inner bucket to avoid the trash spilling inside the home.


Slow-close lid – A slow-close lid allows users time to safely get their hands out of the way before the trash can lid shuts. And even in the rare event that a user does get caught, the lid closes so slowly that it won’t cause any painful pinching.

The slow-close lid feature is also nice for eliminating loud slamming noises that can be startling, especially to pets.


Shape and size – Step trash cans come in several shapes such as rectangular, square, round, semi-round, and slim. They also come in a variety of sizes.

Step trash canConsider the intended location of the step trash can and determine the best shape and size for that space. The trash can should fit in a spot that is accessible without the trash can intruding into any pathways.

Also, consider the user when selecting a size. A larger trash can means fewer trips to take the trash outside, but the loads are heavier since the bags are fuller. A smaller trash can, on the other hand, means more frequent trips to take out the trash, but the loads are lighter. Those with limited strength may prefer a lighter load, even if it requires more trips.

Pick the shape and size that best suits the user and the living space.


Features to avoid

Top-heavy – Shy away from step trash cans with large, heavy lids because they are more prone to tipping over than those with a sturdy base. In fact, the weight imbalance for some of these trash cans is so great that even a slight bump can knock them over.

Cleaning up after spilling a trash can is no easy task, so skip any possible frustrations by avoiding top-heavy step trash cans.


What to know before buying

Take note of all the step trash can’s dimensions, including the height, to verify that it will fit in its intended space before purchasing. Always measure first before buying.


Draw-string trash bags tend to wrap around and hold onto the rim of a trash can much better than flap-tie trash bags.

Furthermore, the draw-string bags are easier to tie because the draw-string cinches the bag shut as opposed to having to pull the bag shut by hand with a flap-tie bags.

Those who have traditionally used flap-tie bags should consider switching to draw-string bags for the added convenience.

Drawstring bags for trash can


Manufacturers have recently developed trash cans with sensor-activated lids that circumvent the need for a foot pedal. The early generations of these models have shown promise, but the concept has yet to be perfected. The sensors still are not fully reliable and can actually cause more headache than help.

For now, stick with the tried and true step trash can. Wait on the trash cans with sensor-activated lids until they have proven to be as durable as step trash cans.


Full trash bags can be difficult to pull out of a trash can because sometimes an air vacuum is created at the bottom of the trash can that keeps the bag from lifting out easily. This problem is best fixed with a step trash that has an inner bucket.

Drill one hole on both sides of the inner bucket just a few inches above the bottom. This allows air to flow below the trash bag and stops the vacuum problem. Don’t drill close to the bottom because this could allow any liquids in the bucket to leak out into the trash can.

Users can certainly drill holes into the sides of step trash cans that do not have inner buckets, but these holes will allow odors to more freely flow into the kitchen. Also, a hole on both sides of the trash can will obviously negatively affect its appearance.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


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