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Archive for the ‘Safety & Welfare’ Category

Do you need modifications to your home because of injury, illness, or just plain aging and a desire to stay in your home, eliminating obstacles that may exist to doing so, but don’t think you can afford them?

First of all, many modifications may cost far less than you might expect, because they often don’t need to be as extensive or labor-intensive as you might imagine, and can actually be quite simple.

For example, sometimes all that is needed to ensure wheelchair accessibility may be to remove the moldings from around your doors and finish off the opening without them, and maybe either add new doors that fit the enlarged opening better, or in some cases, dispense with them altogether.  This alone can add a couple of inches of width to the doorway that can make all the difference, without getting into major remodeling.

And in places like the bathroom, as long as you can get the chair in there (which the door width may be the only obstacle to), depending on your particular situation, all you might need to be able to shower or bathe on your own might be a transfer bench and grab bars – although of course, you could certainly also opt do a full remodel with a wheel-in shower, step-in tub, and many other helpful aids that can be created in a way that no one else needs to know their purpose if you prefer.

Your best bet to determine what will serve your needs the best in a way that will fit your budget will be to consult a professional with the CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist) designation to find out what’s necessary and possible, and to get a realistic idea of what it will cost.  You can search for an appropriate professional in your area via the National Association of Home Builders CAPS Directory.  CAPS specialists are specifically trained to manage the changes needed in the residential built environment in order for people to age comfortably and safely in their own homes – and that same training applies to both accessible and universal design as well.

If you have an occupational or physical therapist, you might want to involve them in the process as well, even if they have not already done a home visit, so that your needs and the specific obstacles in your home are most appropriately identified from a medical/functional perspective, leaving the design professionals to create a solution that best implements those requirements in the most aesthetically-pleasing way possible within your budget constraints.

Accessible design is created for people with specific, known needs, and universal design is a more general concept that allows people of a range of ages and abilities to function well together in the same space, anticipating potential needs along with addressing actual existing ones.   They overlap with each other, and both overlap with aging-in-place.

If aesthetics is important to you (and it should be, because that greatly impacts your enjoyment of your home), start with an interior designer or architect who is CAPS-certified, and hire a contractor who also holds the designation for the optimal combination of design and construction knowledge.  No one wants to – or needs to – live in a home that looks institutional in order for it to function well for physical needs.

Some contractors, although far from all, may have some training in interior and/or architectural design, so unless you know you only need or want the most basic of changes like functional grab bars and/or stair glides, the best outcomes in any renovation or new construction project will usually come from hiring a team that works together to address not just the technical issues but also the aesthetic ones, and not just the physical house issues, but also furnishings, color, lighting, etc., all of which can also be modified as necessary to address various types of disabilities, including normal age-related vision loss.

Most designers and architects will meet with you initially at no charge to explain their services, find out generally what your needs, budget, and preferences are, and to make a proposal, so don’t be afraid to call one even if you think you can’t afford our services.  If it does turn out to be more than you want to spend to hire one to do the whole project, many, myself included, will also work on an hourly consultation basis to give you advice, review contractors’ plans before the proposed modifications are built, etc.

Finally, when it does come time to do whatever work needs to be done, if you find that you really can’t afford them on your own, you may be able to locate some surprising sources of help in funding the modifications.

While it is beyond the scope of this blog – and indeed the scope of any design or construction trade professional – to offer specific advice about financial assistance, or its appropriateness for any specific situation or type of situation, I would like to share some resources that you can investigate on your own.  Please do consult with your own financial, tax, and legal advisors to determine the impacts and pros and cons of any financial options you may be considering.  In some situations, there might even be tax breaks associated with such modifications that might increase their affordability, but again, please do consult your own advisors for details.

One place to start, certainly, is asking your bank about a loan, and another is to ask your accountant and/or attorney about any sources they may know of.  Likewise, your church, synagogue, or other house of worship might be able to suggest or offer assistance through either that particular facility or through the religion’s local or national agencies and charities.  Fraternal organizations might have options as well, if you belong to one.

The Our Parents blog (which is a wonderful general resource for information about aging in general, and caring for older adults) also has a nice article on where to turn to seek financial aid with an assortment of links that will help you research options in your area, or that apply to your particular circumstances.

Don’t be put off by the name of the blog or references to aging and seniors if you are not of that “certain age”, as many of these agencies might also have programs that could benefit younger people as well if they have significant disabilities, and the blog certainly has information that would be beneficial to people with other disabling conditions.  They also have a nice article with other links about the possible pitfalls of reverse mortgages, which many people think of, and which may or may not be appropriate for a given situation.

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(Please note:  This video may not run smoothly for some reason; you may have to restart it several times where it leaves off in order to view the whole thing, but make sure you watch it all, including the testing processes.)

Glass tables can be wonderful additions to many rooms in the house, and are particularly popular as coffee tables, end tables, and dining tables. They are stylish, help small rooms look larger, and can help reflect light that will help brighten any space.

But they do have one major downside, that people should be aware of, and that is that they can also provide a significant hazard for everyone in the house, but particularly for children and the elderly. Sharp edges can cause cuts and bruises when people bump into them, and particularly for the elderly, whose vision is not what it was when they are younger, they can just be more difficult to see, and thus harder to avoid bumping into. As we age, our skin gets thinner, so elderly skin is more likely to tear easily on a squared edge, too, than on one that is more rounded. Much is already made of these particular issues in aging-in-place and universal design circles.

However – and even more importantly – glass tables of all sizes and designs can also shatter, especially if someone falls on them, and severe injuries and even death may result, as the above video shows.

Even young, able-bodied adults are not immune from this risk, as both this video describes and the one blow shows graphically.

Although this second video starts out humorously, and looking like a commercial or a joke, the injuries the woman shown has likely sustained could well threaten her life, as well as disfigure her forever. The chances that the glass may penetrate her abdomen or chest, or sever a carotid artery or femoral artery (among other possibilities) are high, any of which injuries could cause her to bleed to death in a matter of minutes. She may well have also sustained a severe neck and/or back injury from this fall, fractures, and could need reconstructive plastic surgery to repair her face. This sort of trip and fall is not at all an unlikely occurrence in many homes, either, particularly as anyone who has ever had children or pets will attest.

Children are also particularly susceptible to such injuries, when they run around and jump on the furniture. Consumer Reports and the Providence Journal reported on one such tragic case of an 11 year old dying from a severe puncture wound to her leg that caused her to bleed to death.

According to Consumer Reports, “Each year an estimated 20,000 people, most of them children, are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained from glass furniture. In an average year, three children die”.

Pets can also cause the same kind of damage to glass furniture, and sustain the same kinds of injuries, especially if they are large and/or rowdy.

So, does this mean you should get rid of all glass tables, or never use them?

No, it just means you have to do a little homework when first buying them, and be sure that the glass is tempered/safety glass, not the more typical annealed glass used in most furniture.

Tempered glass (also known as safety glass), which is what your car windows, shower doors, and storm doors are made of, shatters into many small pebble-like pieces when it breaks, none of which are likely to cause life-threatening injuries, most of which have very few sharp edges. Annealed glass, however (which is what most home windows are made of, and almost all glass furniture parts), breaks into slabs and slices of glass of varying sizes, some quite large, with edges that are as sharp as knives, and which will quickly and easily penetrate all soft tissue, and even bone, if the force applied is sufficient. The first video above shows the difference graphically in a testing situation.

Because there are no safety standards or codes that apply to the type of glass used in tables yet (although they are now under development), it’s up to you the consumer (or your designer) to ensure that safety glass is used or specified, in order to ensure maximum safety, especially in areas of the home that have a lot of traffic, although it’s best to ensure the use of safety glass wherever glass is used in furniture in the home.

Some tables are made entirely of glass, and it may not be possible to get them in tempered glass, or they may be made in a way that makes replacing the glass portions impractical or impossible, so you will then have to decide what’s most important to you, taking into consideration where the piece will live, who will use it, the amount of traffic that will pass near it, etc.

Some manufacturers already use tempered glass as a matter of course, but far from all, so you will have to ask before you buy. If it’s just a glass top or insert, and you cannot custom order the piece with tempered glass (or you already have the piece), you can always have a replacement made of tempered glass yourself by a local glass shop. You could also have a replacement top fabricated from another material, including wood or stone, if that works with the piece and your space, and the look appeals to you, but then you will lose the visual appeal and other qualities of the glass, if that’s what you really want.

It’s also a good idea to ensure that everyone in your home and to whom you entrust the care of your children 0r elderly relatives, including babysitters and other caretakers, is trained in basic first aid, just on general principles. I don’t know enough about the case in Rhode Island, but depending upon the location of the puncture wound that bled uncontrollably as reported, it’s very possible that prompt first aid including direct pressure on the wound, arterial pressure, or even a tourniquet if necessary and possible based on the location of the wound, may have saved her life.

So, don’t let this post scare you out of using glass tables, because they are wonderful in the right settings, and totally appropriate. Just take reasonable precautions to ensure safety when selecting them – and enjoy your furniture for years to come.

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Furniture tipping over can create a significant hazard in the home, particularly to young children, although the frail elderly and the disabled may also be disproportionately negatively impacted as well. Top quality furniture has always resisted tipping over as a result of use far more effectively than cheaper goods, because best manufacturing practices and materials create structure that builds this in to a large extent.

However, particularly since most people purchase mass market goods, much of which does not come anywhere near meeting these kinds of inherent quality standards, it’s important to read the press release below, and to be alert to the hazard, as well as to ways you can mitigate it.

In earthquake-prone areas such as California, it is particularly important to bolt taller pieces of furniture to the wall in order to prevent tip-over in an earthquake (although that still won’t help with the problem of poorly constructed drawers falling out). In an earthquake, all bets are off as to what will or will not tip over due to construction quality, and you’ve got to assume that everything will fall over. Securing tall pieces to the wall is just plain a good idea everywhere else, too, for the reasons outlined below, just on general principles, and is the reason this new voluntary standard has been developed.

In future posts, I’ll address the question of what to look for in furniture construction of various types of furniture in order to ensure you get the best possible quality, which contributes to safety, comfort, usability, durability, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness, as well as pure pleasure and enjoyment.

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(05/18/2009) AHFA Will Use Consumer Website to Help Educate Parents About Furniture Tip-Over Hazards
By: Jackie Hirschhaut, 336/881-1016

HIGH POINT, N.C. – ASTM International has released a revised furniture tip-over standard requiring manufacturers to include a “tip restraint” with each chest, door chest and dresser taller than 30 inches.

“Tip restraints attach the piece of furniture to an interior wall, framing or other support to help prevent the piece from tipping over,” explains American Home Furnishings Alliance Vice President Bill Perdue, who served as co-chair of the furniture safety subcommittee that worked on the revised standard. “Furnishings that comply with the new standard also will carry a new warning label that cautions parents not to open more than one drawer at a time, not to place televisions or other heavy objects on the top of the product, and not to allow children to climb on drawers.” (more…)

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