By Anna Hazard
This entry in our Aging-in-Place by Room series focuses on other household wide systems such as communication, electrical & power grid, as well as a selection of other recommended systems for trash & recycling, cleaning, & medication management that should be overhauled for better accessibility. While the overall power grid to a house may require more time consuming & professional services in order to better prepare a home for future requirements, many other system tweaks will only require a small upfront cost or purchasing of a standalone device in order to implement.
As more and more aging-in-place & health related appliances and gadgets may be required as one grows older, the household's electrical system should be checked and overhauled for robustness, safety, and convenience if necessary. This includes making certain that there are enough extra power outlets within the rooms that may have to accommodate extra future equipment (such as near beds where medical equipment may need to be plugged in during times of illness or in the living room with an outlet available to power a lift chair for those many seniors who may have trouble rising from a resting position).
For ease of use by those who may have limited mobility, electrical outlets should optimally be installed around 15" - 24" up from the floor surface (well within reach of someone in a wheelchair or scooter) with outlets separated by no more than 12 feet from each other (to stymie the need for extension cords which pose both a tripping and possible electric shock or fire hazard as they tend to wear out faster than attached power cords).
Certain heavy use locations that may require multiple power sources may need outlets that are closer than 12" feet apart. USB chargers can also be attached to those outlets which may be commonly used to recharge USB-based devices (such as phones, cameras, tablets etc).
As the need for power outlets tend to increase with time (due to both technological progress and because more accessibility gadgets & medical devices may be required as one ages), it's recommended that common 2-pair power outlets be switched out with quad electrical outlets instead. There should also be clear access space of at least 30" x 48" in front of all power outlets in order to allow someone using a bulky mobility device to be able to approach & use them easily. Power cords should also be kept close to their origin or along the wall, avoiding any areas that are used for walking.
The electrical circuits and entire household power grid should also be double-checked that they are robust enough to function with the extra electricity required without any chance of blowing out a fuse due to overuse or an untoward power surge. Additional separate circuits can be installed into the house's power grid so that one particular circuit won't be overwhelmed with devices.
In addition, all two prong outlets should be switched over to three prong varieties, both for the extra safety that the third grounded prong supplies during any possible power surges and also because many of the more heavy duty aging-in-place equipment or medical devices (stair lifts, lift chairs, respirators etc) have power cords with three prongs.
Back-up Power Generators
It's recommended that a back-up house-wide power generator or uninterrupted power supply be installed early-on during aging-in-place modifications before a senior's health potentially deteriorates in order to properly deal with any emergency power failures (due to inclement weather or electric grid failure). This is particularly necessary for those seniors who may have electrical powered medical devices such as oxygen respirators & dialysis machines or who might require the use of electrically powered lifts to maneuver around the household.
The back-up power generator should have at minimum a sufficient capacity to run all medical devices, HVAC systems, essential lights, refrigerator (both for food & drinks as well as any potential medicines such as insulin that require cold storage), as well as necessary mobility devices such as stair lifts or elevators. The overall house power grid can be installed as a dual panel where one panel is used for non-essential devices while the second panel with all crucial systems is connected to the back-up power source.
While more expensive (to the tune of a couple thousand dollars), standby home generators that automatically kick-in when the house's normal main power source fails are generally recommended over portable generators that require to be manually started and maintained. Standby generators can also run for more extended periods, include surge protection, are less noisy in operation, and can power more devices (providing around 20,000 watts to the 2,000 watts available through an emergency back-up portable generator.) This is particularly necessary for those seniors with more limited mobility or greater health issues that may not be capable of maintaining a portable generator.
Integrated communication systems are recommended to help accommodate seniors with hearing, visual, or mobility impairments. When it comes to communication, easy-to-use intercom systems with video capability are recommended, particularly those that have integrated emergency alerts (to both emergency services & to potential caregivers), security monitoring, or smart technology that would allow the other various household systems (such as heating, air-conditioning, thermostat control, motion sensors, and lighting) to be controlled from any TV, telephones, or other monitors within the house.
Smart devices designed to make homes more energy efficient often have added benefits when it comes to seniors aging in place. This includes smart grid-enabled systems & switches with the ability to control energy use, manage all smart devices & appliances, as well as allow family members & caregivers to check-in remotely.
For those potentially hard of hearing or with visual acuity problems, it can be helpful and far safer to install a video monitoring system that has both audible and visual strobes that trigger upon activation of the doorbell, telephone, or smoke & carbon monoxide detectors. Whether using additional smart technology or not, there should be access to a phone on a low surface (that can be reached from the floor in case of any potential falls) or that is voice activated within each room for potential emergencies. Optimally the intercom should be linked to at least the front entrance, the kitchen, bedroom, and potential garage.
Recommendations for other helpful household wide systems for aging-in-place include built-in recycling systems for easier trash maintenance (such as pull-out wheeled garbage cans & lazy susan style recycling storage), built in automatic pet feeding systems that will not require stooping to the floor in order to provide food or water to household pets, as well as automated vacuuming (either through a central vacuum or by using portable robotic vacuums such as Roombas which will not require the user to manually push the vacuum) & other automated cleaners such as using robots for cleaning gutters (such as Looj), mowing lawns (such as Robomow), or for sweeping & mopping hard surfaces (such as Braava).
Emergency medical alert systems should also be put in place if they are not already part of the housewide communication or intercom systems. In addition, medication managers & disbursement systems (often taking the form of standalone gadgets such as Med-e-lert & MedCenter) are other popular additions to the household for aging in place.
View the Rest of the Series
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Exterior
Part 3 - Landscaping & Gardens
Part 4 - Patio, Porch, & Deck
Part 5 - Garage & Carports
Part 6 - Entrances, Exits, & Thresholds
Part 7 - Exterior Steps & Ramps
Part 8 - Threshold Lighting & Windows
Part 9 - Interior Doors & Halls
Part 10 - Interior Steps & Staircases
Part 11 - Interior Stairlifts
Part 12 - Interior Elevators
Part 13 - Interior Lighting
Part 14 - General Interior Flooring
Part 15 - Interior Flooring Comparisons
Part 16 - HVAC & Energy Efficiency
Part 17 - Power, Communications, & Other Interior Systems
Part 18 - Living Room
Part 19 - Kitchen Layout, HVAC, & Electrical Systems
Part 20 - Kitchen Lighting, Flooring, and Sink Faucets
Part 21 - Kitchen Countertops & Cabinets
Part 22 - Kitchen Refrigerators, Freezers, and Dishwashers
Part 23 - Kitchen Ovens, Ranges, Stovetops, and Cooktops
Part 24 - Kitchen Microwaves, Blenders, & Food Processors
Part 25 - Miscellaneous Kitchen Items
Part 26 - Dining Room Layout, Tables, & Other Furniture
Part 27 - Dining Room Flooring, Lighting, & Meal Serving Equipment
Part 28 - Bedroom Layout & Closets
Part 29 - Accessible Beds
Part 30 - Bedroom Furniture, Electronics, & Other Accessories
Part 31 - Bedroom Flooring
Part 32 - Bedroom Lighting
Part 32 - Bathroom
Part 33 - Laundry Room