So your loved ones are getting older and life is getting a bit more complicated! Perhaps their vision and hearing are getting worse, and maybe it’s more difficult to walk up and down the stairs. Some elderly people can also suffer from dementia, which might cause them to accidentally leave the stove on or make other dangerous mistakes.
The effects of aging can be worrisome, especially for the senior’s loved ones. If the elder adult doesn’t live in assisted living or a nursing home, family members often have to make sure their house is set up so that they can live safely. A safe home brings peace of mind to all of you!
Making these changes can feel demanding, and meeting each senior’s specific needs might be puzzling. Wherever you are, we’re here to make sure you’re ready for every situation that a senior might encounter. Here’s everything you need to know to keep your senior loved ones safe at home.
Why Assessing Home Safety Is Vital for Older Adults
Okay, perhaps your Grandpa’s health is right as rain and you’re not worried about him in the slightest. He’s 70 years old and still runs marathons and works out on his Peloton twice a week. You’re not worried about him at all.
However, remember that he’s a senior and could benefit from your help. In fact, One in four older adults over the age of 65 suffer from falls, the majority of which occur at home, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Every year, three million older adults are treated in the emergency rooms for fall injuries, which cost $50 million in total. Patients who suffered from falls are often treated for broken bones, most commonly wrists, arms, hip and ankle fractures, plus brain injuries. In fact, falls are the most common cause of life-threatening brain trauma. Even if a senior collapses and doesn’t injure themselves, the emotional trauma of having fallen can have a lasting impact.
Of course, the risk of falling isn’t the only thing to worry about. When it comes to quality of life for older adults, we have to be mindful of what medications they are using. We have to make sure they have the right health devices and safe appliances, starting off with their homes.
Room-by-Room Safeguarding for the Older Adults
How To Senior Proof Homes
There’s so much to think about when you have an elderly person living in your home or living independently. As falls are a common occurrence among seniors, it’s important to make sure that the house is senior-proof, so that even if they fall, there’s nothing they can injure themselves on. You also want to make sure that every room of their homes is easily accessible. This guide provides room-by-room instructions for senior-proofing homes.
Foyer and Hallways
This is the place where people put on or take off all of their outerwear: shoes, coats, scarfs, hats, bags, and more. Depending on the weather and the person, getting ready to head out the door could be quite the process. To help out older adults, consider putting a bench by the door. That way when it’s time to get ready, they have a place to sit and put their clothes on in a safe manner.
In addition, entrance halls tend to be homes for welcome mats and door rugs. Mats and rugs that aren’t attached to the floor can slip and slide, potentially causing someone to trip. If you have any sort of throw rugs in the foyer, use double-sided tape to keep them from moving or make sure to buy rugs with non-slip backing. Better yet, get rid of them. Instead, install low-pile (easier for walkers and wheelchairs) wall-to-wall carpet.
For those with arthritis, using round door knobs can be painful. Replace these knobs with levers instead (whereby elbows can be used to open doors). Lastly, if you live in a home that has narrow doors or hallways, think about widening them. Seniors who use wheelchairs, walkers or other mobile devices will benefit especially.
Water and slick surfaces make it easy for people to fall, whether elderly or not. That’s why the bathroom is one of the most hazardous places in the house. Every year, about 235,000 people over the age of 15 have been injured in the bathroom, mostly while bathing or showering.
Elderly people are particularly at risk when using the toilet because not every senior can sit and stand. Able-bodied individuals often don’t realize how much strength, balance and mobility it takes to use a toilet successfully. To help elders use the toilet and avoid other bathroom hazards:
- Consider using a raised toilet seat or a toilet seat elevator: Toilet seats 17 to 20 inches higher make the toilet a more comfortable experience for seniors, according to experts.
- Install grab bars: If possible, put grab bars on the walls next to the toilet or install safety rail devices or commodes that slink behind the bowl. You should also install grab bars inside and outside of any showers and bathrooms.
- Place non-slip rubber mats in slippery areas: Put these in front of any sinks and both inside and outside of showers and tubs.
- Consider retrofitting your plumbing: You can install walk-in tubs and showers so the elderly in your home don’t have to step over any barriers to take a bath. You can also insert foldable chairs so they can shower sitting down with a flexible shower wand.
- Make sure the doors lock and unlock on both sides: If anything bad happens in the bathroom, you want to make sure that you can get in there to help.
- Keep the water heater at 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower: Some seniors have impaired senses and slow reaction times, meaning that if the water is scalding hot, they might not be able to notice or change it immediately. Hot and cold water baths can also be dangerous for older adults with health issues. So keep the water at a safe temperature, and if needed, monitor your elders when they get in the tub.
Since most medicines are kept in the bathroom, it’s important to be aware of how they are stored so that seniors use them appropriately.
When you check out your senior’s medicine cabinet, make sure to :
- Clearly label medicines and check that the labels are visible: If the senior suffers from poor vision, create labels with a large font. Also check to see that the medicine cabinet has adequate lighting. You don’t want someone to take the wrong medication and dosage because they were unable to read the label.
- Toss out old or expired medications: Full disclosure, some studies say that medications can still be effective years after their expiration dates, according to an article from Harvard Health Publishing. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry, particularly if that drug is life-saving. It’s also important to keep in mind that liquid medications can be a welcome environment for bacteria and fungus if you have them long enough. Obviously, you don’t want your senior to put contaminated medications anywhere near their body, so be vigilant when it comes to their medicine cabinet.
- Consider ordering bubble packs: This can be a convenient option for older adults who need to take a lot of different medications throughout the day. Ask your pharmacists to organize their pills in seven-day or 31-day bubble packs so your loved one doesn’t have to sort through pills every day. All they have to do is to pop the pills out of the pack at the appropriate time. Pill cases or medi-sets are another option, although they require more effort outside of the pharmacy and have to be refilled weekly.
- Check for borrowed meds: Sometimes when people suffer from certain ailments and lack medical resources, they’ll accept drugs from well-meaning friends and family, including their spouses. Despite their good intentions, sharing medications can be very dangerous. Doctors prescribe drugs according to each person’s unique needs, so one patient’s pills may not be appropriate for somebody else. If you find some medication that wasn’t prescribed to your senior, be sure to alert them of the dangerous of sharing medicine.
While bathrooms are the most dangerous rooms when it comes to falls, bedrooms are another area of top concern, especially as seniors get in and out of bed. To senior-proof the bedroom:
- Remove excess furniture: The fewer pieces of furniture you have, the better. If an older adult doesn’t have the sharpest motor skills, it’s best to create a walkway that they don’t have to zig-zag through.
- Plug in those nightlights: Some seniors make frequent trips to the bathroom at night so it’s important that they can see when it’s dark. This is especially important for older adults with poor eyesight.
- Install motion activated lighting in the bedroom and bathroom.
- Place walking aids close to the bed: Make sure walkers, wheelchairs and all other mobile aids are within arms’ reach of the bed.
- Install bed rails or floor-to-ceiling poles: Getting up can be extremely challenging for seniors. Try installing bed rails or support poles so that they can use their arms to hoist themselves up.
- If needed, assist the older adult as they get up: Even if they have support rails or poles, you might want to give them an extra hand when they get out of bed. Sometimes the we can get up too quickly, causing dizziness.
- Remove clutter and keep cords out of the way: This will reduce the likelihood of tripping on anything. If you have any sort of cord on the floor, make sure it is hidden behind furniture or at least out of the major walkways. Taping them to floor or carpet is the safest.
- Fix damaged floors and carpets: Damaged flooring can be a major tripping hazard. Fix or remove these things.
- Make sure night stands are accessible from the bed: This keeps lamps, medications and any other important items accessible.
- Ensure that the mattress is not too high: Getting into bed can also be tough for seniors, although the ideal height will vary according to each person’s ability and stature.
When it comes to the kitchen, you want to make sure the room is convenient to use and has senior friendly appliances. The last thing you want is for Aunty to stop cooking because she can’t reach her utensils or for Grandpa to forget that he left the stove on. So to prevent any of that from happening, here’s everything you need to consider:
- Store frequently-used utensils and food within reach: This could be as extreme as remodeling the cabinets so that they are more accessible, or as simple as rearranging all of the pots, pans and seasonings so seniors can easily access what they need. A reacher-grabber might also come in handy for those hard-to-reach items.
- Store knives in a rack: If exposed sharp knives are kept in a drawer with other utensils, there’s a chance that an older adult could accidentally injure themselves.
- Buy a comfortable counter stool: Some older adults no longer have the ability or the stamina to cook while standing. A stool would help them significantly unless it gets in the way of the walker.
- Get a well-lit refrigerator: Refrigerators with clear bins are also helpful. Make sure the refrigerator doors have long, one-piece handles. These are easier to grip for those who have arthritis or any medical condition that causes numbness in the hands and fingers.
- Label foods with expiration dates: Write in large letters if your elder has trouble seeing.
- Buy automatic stove shut-off devices: These sensors are great for preventing gas leaks and fires. You can also buy appliances like coffee pots and kettles with shut-off features built-in.
- Install an automatic fire extinguisher: With heat-sensing capabilities, these fire extinguishers should be placed over a stove, automatically putting out any stovetop fire.
- Consider replacing the stove with a microwave: For an even safer option, microwaves make cooking much more simple and safe, decreasing the likelihood of a house fire. Make sure to tell your senior how to use it safely!
- Regularly check your fire and CO alarms: It’s important that these devices work so that you can be alerted if trouble occurs.
- Replace glass items with plastic ones: This way, your senior will avoid having to clean up shattered dish ware. Consider replacing heavy pots and pans with lighter ones, as well; they’ll be much easier to handle.
- No more step stools in the kitchen. Keep frequently used items in drawers and shelves you can access without a stool.
The living room is furnished with your couch, TV, a coffee table with a throw rug, and your decorative furniture. While the living room is mostly a place to relax, play and host company, it can be a minefield for the elderly. To make your living room safe for older adults:
- Clear the floors: Watch out for runners, rugs, fallen remotes, loose toys or any other items that could make for a dangerous obstacle. Older adults tend to use shorter and smaller steps than their younger counterparts, so it’s important that all tripping hazards are eliminated.
- Check the carpeting: If you happen to have a carpet on the floor, make sure there’s no loose thread or holes for people to trip on.
- Rearrange the furniture: Make sure that there are plenty of open space to move around safely.
- Use secure furniture and decorative items: Many times seniors with mobility issues use the items around them for balance and stability as they move around. If your living room has a lot of items that can tip over or move easily, consider removing them. Look out for items such as rolling chairs, table lamps or any lightweight furniture.
- Consider installing grab bars: To eliminate the chances of Grandma grabbing onto an item that can fall over, install some sturdy grab bars where it’s convenient for her.
- Hide the cords: Minimize the space between outlets and electronic devices so that you don’t have cords running across the living room.
- Replace your remotes: Many TV remotes have dozens of buttons that can be hard to read, even for younger audiences. Consider replacing them with simplified remotes with larger buttons.
- Consider buying a senior friendly recliner: There are chairs out there that can lift a person into near-standing position, which can be incredibly useful for seniors who have trouble getting off their seat.
If the older adult in your life is still washing their own clothes, it’s important that you arrange the laundry room to ensure their safety. Try these tips:
- Buy easy-to-use appliances: Get washers and dryers that have legible controls located at the front of the machine. If the controls are in the back, they might be hard to reach for people in wheelchairs. In the same vein, front-loading washers and dryers with side-opening doors are more convenient appliances for seniors.
- Add easy-roll storage near the washer and dryer: This can be a great place to put all of the detergents and dryer cloths.
- Provide a seated work area: This makes folding clothes a lot easier.
- Get a rolling laundry cart: Carrying clothes around in a bin can be too big of a task for most seniors, but a rolling cart can help them transport heavier loads around the laundry room and beyond.
- Use an adjustable ironing board: This way, seniors can press out their clothes while seated.
- Install a low clothesline: Have it at a height where your elder can hang the delicates.
A person needs to have proper balance, stamina and depth perception to go up and down a staircase safely. But not all stairs are made alike. Some have high and wide steps, some have narrower and low steps, and some are even “open backed” which could mean you can see through to the floor. Not surprisingly, stairs can be a huge challenge for older adults, but there are ways to make stairs easier to handle:
- Clear stairs of loose rugs and obstacles: Loose items can make anyone trip down the stairs, senior or not.
- Make sure the staircase has good lighting: Light is extremely important for depth perception. If your staircase is dark, consider installing lights along the steps.
- Consider installing rubber, abrasive treads or non-slip tape: This will help prevent falls.
- Install secure handrails on both sides: Handrails will help people stabilize themselves on their ways up and down.
- Consider getting rid of “open backed” stairs: If the house has “open backed” stairs, you may need to do a bit of construction. These types of staircases can cause visual disturbances, messing with depth perception and therefore overall balance.
- Warn seniors against wearing reading glasses while using the stairs: Bifocals and “cheaters” can hurt one’s perception, causing dizziness or trouble with depth perception.
- Consider buying a stair lift: If your elder has a lot of trouble navigating the stairs, a stair lift is a great option.
Driveways, Garages and Porches
Because of adverse weather, like rain, ice and snow, uneven surfaces like driveways and porches can be highly risky for older adults. While you can’t control the weather (yet), here are some changes you can make:
- Sweep everything clean: Make sure all driveways and decks are free of debris.
- Decorate the porch with waterproof and textured paint: This will increase traction, preventing falls.
- Paint low curbs with bright paint: If you’re allowed to paint the property’s curbs, this is a great way to increase visibility.
- Install motion-sensitive outdoor lighting: This way, anytime your Grandpa steps outside, he will have plenty of light to see where he is going, without having to manually turn it on.
- Place handrails by any stairs even if it’s just one step.
- Use abrasive strips or rubber on stair treads to prevent slippage, for added support.
- Salt the driveway when it snows: You don’t want any ice to form on the driveway. Cat litter also works as added traction.
- Remove protruding tree roots from driveway and sidewalks: These are trip-hazards.
Falls cannot be prevented completely but all these safeguards will give you the opportunity to live much more safely in your home.
Having a set strong core and legs muscles can be very helpful in preventing falls. See my upcoming article on “Fall Prevention Exercise in Senior Living”.
ALWAYS feel free to call Millie at 415-987-8636!