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Ensuring a senior-friendly living space

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Consistent monitoring and periodic adjustments to the home layout contribute to the overall well-being of retirees. Phoo by Claudia Love - Unsplash

By: Prof. Dr. Nor Adinar Baharuddin

In my younger years, the concept of retirement felt distant, often overwhelmed by the need to set realistic goals and craft strategies for a secure future. At that time, my focus was on bolstering income and instilling a habit of saving money, a decision that now proves invaluable as retirement nears. Most retirees find themselves with around half their previous income, making meticulous planning of current income, expenses, and savings highly important.

Prof. Dr. Nor Adinar Baharuddin

Approaching retirement age prompts a critical consideration: how to maximize the utility of retirement funds. Initiating this involves striving for a debt-free status and, where feasible, considering downsizing as a strategic step towards a softer transition.

Among the paramount aspects of retirement planning is our living space strategy. Investing in preparing our home for retirement deserves prioritization, as this will become the focal point of our daily lives post-retirement. Ensuring our living space is both comfortable and senior-friendly is of utmost importance.

As affirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the global median age is on the rise, a trend mirrored in Malaysia. The country’s older demographic is expanding rapidly. In 2007, the Department of Statistics recorded 1,195,480 individuals aged 65 and above, constituting 4.4% of the population. According to the National Population and Family Development Board, Malaysia is projected to achieve an aged population status by 2035, when 15% of its populace will be 60 or older—myself included as I embark on retirement.

A concerning trend among older Malaysians is home accidents, often resulting from falls. Statistics indicate a prevalence of falls, with 31% of participants reporting incidents, and 4.4% experiencing multiple falls in the preceding year. Slips account for 49% of these falls, a largely preventable issue.

Several threats lurk within homes that significantly heighten the risk of tripping and stumbling among retirees. Factors like slippery floor surfaces, irregular tiles, and inadequate lighting can amplify these dangers. Bathrooms, often characterized by smooth surfaces and persistent dampness, stand out as hotspots for slips and falls. The absence of handrails or grab bars in critical areas like staircases and bathrooms further compounds the risk of home accidents among seniors.

Household mishaps involving elements like faulty electrical wiring, collisions with furniture, or cluttered pathways are frequently observed. These seemingly minor issues pose a significant threat to retirees due to reduced balance and slower reaction times, making them more susceptible to injuries.

Addressing these hazards within the home environment is crucial. Consider adopting a minimalist lifestyle, reorganizing living spaces to create unobstructed pathways and reduce the risk of tripping. Dispose of unnecessary furniture, outgrown clothing, or excessive keepsakes from gatherings or travels—while retaining cherished mementos and personal belongings.

Implement simple renovations, such as installing non-slip tiles and handrails in critical areas like bathrooms and staircases. For those experiencing reduced strength, poor balance, dizziness, or impaired vision, installing grab handrails can provide crucial support and stability, particularly when navigating the shower or bathtub.

Proper lighting plays an important role in reducing these risks, enhancing safety, and fostering a more senior-friendly environment. Well-placed lights not only draw attention to potential hazards but also minimize blind spots and vulnerable areas within the living space.

Consistent monitoring and periodic adjustments to the home layout significantly contribute to accident prevention and the overall well-being of retirees. With advancements in technology and healthcare, longer lifespans are anticipated. Planning for a retiree-friendly and safe living space becomes pivotal in averting home-related injuries and effectively managing retirement funds. This proactive approach to living space planning is indispensable for a fulfilling, secure, and autonomous retirement.

……

The author is a Professor in Periodontics and the Deputy Dean of Research, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya. She may be reached at noradinar@um.edu.my

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