10 Tips to Improve Home Safety for Seniors Who Age in Place
By Bill Gelfeld, President Comfort Home Care
Home safety is a critical aspect of aging well. Most homes are not built with the senior in mind. Having said that, your house could present a number of obstacles and hazards to you or your elderly loved one. If you plan on remaining in your present home for quite some time, take a close look at the layout to make sure it is safe and comfortable now and into the future. Here are some areas where small changes can make a big difference in your home’s safety.
- Start with the Bathroom—Water plus slippery surfaces equals the perfect recipe for falling. Many bathroom “upgrades” are simple and inexpensive. For example, in the shower add a rubber slip proof mat along the full length of the tub. Also, in the shower, sitting is safer than standing. So consider buying a shower chair. I recommend getting one that is designed for showers and will therefore fit properly. One of the more important things you can add to the shower is a pressure balance valve. The valve will prevent rapid pressure and temperature changes which can result in scalding (any plumber can add this for you). Also add a slip proof (rubber bottom) bath mat outside the tub for getting in and out. Another great idea for the bathroom is an elevated toilet seat. This makes both sitting down (no more dropping down onto the seat) and standing easier. The toilet and the shower are great places to add secured grab bars. When someone slips they grab the closest thing to catch themselves. If that’s a shower curtain or towel rack it’s likely to break off resulting in a fall. Basically anything you can think of to lessen the odds of falling is a good idea!
- Identify and remove all trip hazards. Again, remember that taking a fall is a senior’s number one enemy. So go through your home and identify anything that could possibly cause you to stumble. This could be your coffee table, magazine holders, or pet toys and feeding bowls. The idea is to have plenty of open space for you to maneuver about your home and get into and out of various seating. While on the topic, it might be a good idea to add railings to both walls in your stairways. Using two hands can provide much better support. Make certain they are secured and will hold your weight.
- Install better lighting. As your eyesight worsens, you will have more trouble seeing at night. And less visibility means more potential for running into things, bumping your head, tripping, and falling. So analyze the lighting in your home. Are there any areas that are particularly dim? Staircases should be well lit, and there should be a light switch at the top and bottom. The kitchen is another area that needs to be well lit. Are there any light fixtures that fail to produce enough light? Consider adding fixtures, lamps, or changing out existing fixtures in troublesome spots.
- Remove all slip hazards. Area rugs can slide causing you to fall. Either remove them or place rubber padding under them to hold them in place. You can find these pads at most hardware stores and specialty home stores. It’s also a great idea to put anti-slip tape (texture similar to sandpaper) on stairs, particularly to the basement. 3M makes several products that can be purchased in a hardware store and easily applied to stairs. It may be a good idea to paint a bright colored strip on the bottom basement stair as well.
- Check your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors regularly. You should have smoke detectors in all bedrooms, as well as at the top of each stairway. It’s also probably a good idea to have one outside the kitchen. Place a carbon monoxide detector in an upstairs hallway where you can hear it. Write a reminder on your calendar to check that they’re in working order and also to replace batteries every six months. I like to check them every New Years Day and Fourth of July.
- Carry a cell phone or get a wearable safety device. If you fall and can’t get up you need to be able to get help. Either carry a cell phone or get a safety device you can wear on a necklace. I have seen numerous instances where having this is a saving grace and well worth it!
- Keep a flashlight on or in your nightstand. If you have to get up in the middle of the night you are not fully awake and you are more at risk of falling. The flashlight will help light the way to the bathroom or wherever you need to go. And even if you have a lamp on the nightstand, if the power is out the flashlight will work. Check the batteries when you do your smoke detectors.
- Switch out the door knobs. Normal doorknobs can prove a nuisance as you get older, especially if you experience arthritis or carpel tunnel syndrome. You can avoid these difficulties by trading round doorknobs for levers, which are much easier to grab. Also consider removing any locks inside your home, as you could accidentally lock a door you need to get into.
- Get your hearing and vision checked regularly. As we age our hearing and vision change. Get both checked regularly. You need to be aware of the changes so you can adjust accordingly.
- Invest in a portable ramp. Eventually you will find yourself having difficulty getting up steps. And even if you do not end up in a wheelchair, you will likely have friends who are. You may decide to have a permanent ramp installed outside your front or backdoor. If the need is more intermittent, there are numerous manufacturers who make ramps that are extremely sturdy, yet fold up for easy storage and transportation. They come in many sizes so you can find one that suits your needs.
Following these steps should get you well on your way to creating a senior-safe environment. There are a number of additional steps you can take to make your home safer, each case specific. I hope these are helpful and I welcome your calls to discuss your ideas. We work with several companies that specialize in retro-fitting homes to make them safer and more accessible for seniors. Please call me and I will be happy to refer you to a trusted and reputable provider.