Is an aging parent living at home a good thing? It depends! Our homes provide comfort, familiarity, and feelings of continued independence and security. So, having a senior continue to live at home makes sense, right? Not necessarily. Deciding whether the home environment is safe is an essential factor. Use this list to assess your parent's living situation and help them safely age in their own home
10 Tips on Home Safety for Seniors
What should a family caregiver look for specifically? Here are 10 age-friendly home safety tips for seniors
- Remove fall hazards. Falls are the leading cause of injury for seniors. To reduce fall risk and encourage home safety for seniors, one of the most important things to do is to make the home fall-safe. You can achieve this by doing the following:
- Remove throw rugs. These may be decorative but often lack a rubberized backing to better grip the floor.
- Clean up piled clutter. This includes newspapers, loose clothes, and shoes.
- Discard or donate old furniture.
- Create a more open environment. This will be easier to do if Mom or Dad is still walking rather than using a wheelchair or walker. In the latter case, doorways should be at least 32” across to allow for access. Consider any tight corners before or after a doorway. These may restrict access and make maneuverability impossible.
- Avoid stretching extension cords across the floor.
- Make sure that your loved one wears non-slip footwear when inside.
- Keep emergency numbers handy. Does your loved one own a cell phone? Watch mom or dad take or make a call - is there any difficulty? Cell phones can have many extra bells and whistles. Consider a more basic model. Seniors can find excessive options confusing, costly, and completely unnecessary. Equip the feature for larger keypad numbers and a display window. These will be easier to press and see. You can also set up a “call display” feature on a telephone. Mom or Dad can immediately recognize an incoming call as either from a family member or a stranger.Aging brains can’t always remember emergency information. Make it easy for your loved one to call for help by posting a note in large letters by every phone and on the back of their cell phone. Make sure to list the following:
- Emergency contacts (family members and friends)
- Your senior’s professional caregiving service
- Your senior’s healthcare provider office
- Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222
- Protect against fire. Home safety for seniors also includes removing fire hazards from within the home.
- Change the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly (after seasonal time changes).
- Check the electric cords of all appliances and lamps in your loved one’s home. Replace any frayed or damaged cords and limit the number of cords plugged into power strips.
- Remove candles from the home. If left burning and unattended, candles can start a fire.
- Remind seniors to stay low when exiting the home in a fire. This reduces the chance of smoke inhalation. Coach seniors on how to “stop, drop, and roll” if their clothes ignite.
- Discourage the use of space heaters. If your loved one insists on using one, place it at least three feet away from curtains, bedding, or furniture. Remind your loved one to turn off the space heater before going to bed or leaving the house.
- Ensure a safe bathroom. The bathroom can be the riskiest room in a senior’s home. Falls and scalding often occur here. To ensure your loved one’s safety, make sure that you address the following issues:
- Install grab bars in the shower and beside the toilet.
- Set the thermostat on the water heater no higher than 120° F to prevent accidental burns.
- Put rubber mats in the bathtub to prevent slipping.
- Consider replacing the original bathtub with a walk-in model instead.
- Place a special bathing chair in the tub. Your best choice for a bathing chair is one that will also fit in the shower.
- Install a hand-held showerhead. These can be easier to use, especially when cleaning hard-to-reach places.
- Replace the original toilet seat with a raised toilet seat with handlebars. Toilets should be between 17 and 19 inches in height. Seniors will find it easier to sit and stand.
- Remove the bathroom mirror. If mom or dad is showing early signs of dementia, seeing an unfamiliar face looking back at them may be startling.
- Install a nightlight in the bathroom. This will help seniors who may make repeated trips to the bathroom overnight. Install a nightlight or two on the route to the bathroom as well so that seniors can find their way.
- Assess the bedroom. You may not think that danger can lurk in a senior’s bedroom, but think again! Seniors can encounter several potential risks here. Do the following to make the bedroom safe for your loved one:
- Replace a sagging, softer mattress with a firmer one. This will be far more comfortable, provide more support, and not trap a resting senior.
- Fit the bedroom with a telescoping grab bar that extends between the floor and ceiling. My family placed one of these beside Mom’s side of the bed for her to hold on to when getting in or out of bed.
- Replace the round bedroom doorknob with a single-lever instead. A senior can easily push this lever down to open the door. While you’re at it, replace all other round doorknobs in the senior’s home as well.
- Assess lighting. Aging eyes don’t always work as they once did. Seniors may misjudge or completely avoid darkened areas in their home.
- Replace any burnt-out light bulbs.
- Install new light fixtures.
- Install motion detection lighting inside and outside the home.
- Test all lighting by standing in one corner of a room and looking across the room. Can you see a clear path? If not, brighten things up with more lights.
- Visit the senior’s kitchen. The kitchen is often the heart of a home. Therefore, it seems only fitting that family caregivers should spend considerable time making this room safer for a senior.
- Pull down any stored items from higher heights. Gauge these items for usage. Are they still working? How often are they used? If they work and are still used frequently, store these items at lower levels.
- Is reaching for items required? If so, provide Mom or Dad with a stepstool. Look for a stool no more than one or two steps in height.
- Provide rubberized water faucet covers for the kitchen sink. These can be easier to grip and turn and are color-coded: red for hot and blue for cold. Family caregivers can often find these products at a senior’s supply store.
- Replace standard “twist and turn” kitchen water faucet handles with “single-lever” handles instead. Seniors can find these far easier to use.
- Open the refrigerator. Wipe it clean and discard any stored foods passed their “best before” date. Do the same thing with pantry cupboards. When grocery-shopping for mom or dad, family caregivers should think about smaller portions and nutrition. Seniors, after all, may eat less, eat less often, or forget to eat entirely. If mom or dad is living in a group home with a communal dining room, major daily meals will be provided. Mom or dad may still want to nibble in between meals so family caregivers can stock them up with healthy snacks (e.g. yogurt, granola bars, nuts, cheese and crackers, and fruit).
- Consider any stairs. My parent’s first retirement home was a beautiful property. However, the outside stairs posed a problem for my mother since she was losing strength and flexibility due to Parkinson’s disease. As a result, she would routinely and doggedly pull herself up these stairs to reach the front door.
- Look into stairlifts. Stairlifts can be custom fitted inside or outside the senior’s home. Call a qualified provider in your parent’s home city and book an appointment to see what is possible. Stairlifts can often carry heavy weight capacities. Safety mechanisms can stop the stairlift if there is something blocking the way. They also operate on a battery system and will not fail in the case of a power outage.
- Test stair railings. You don’t have to be a home handyman to do this. Grab the railing and try to shake it back and forth. If the railing wiggles (even somewhat), it’s time to fix it. Tighten all nuts and bolts or replace the railing.
- Differentiate between stair steps. With partial vision, a senior may be unable to separate one step from the next. To increase home safety for seniors, family caregivers can paint stair tops a contrasting color. Stretching a piece of different-colored duct tape over the top of each stair can also make each step easier to spot.
- Clear the stairs (and outside sidewalks) of ice and snow in the wintertime. If you can’t routinely do this yourself, hire a local service to do it. If no such service exists, offer the job to a neighbor’s youngster with appropriate pay.
- Remain safe in the home. Review common sense safety measures with your loved one. It can be tempting to open the door to someone who “looks nice” but beware. Here are some other things to do and to remind your senior about:
- Install a peephole in your senior’s front door.
- Do not open the door to strangers when home alone. Place a reminder note on the wall beside the front door saying, “Do you know this person? If not, do not open the door."
- Always keep windows and doors locked.
- Install a mail slot in the front door to prevent mail theft.
- Do not agree to any telephone offers. Do not believe a caller’s claims that a family member is in danger. Do not share your financial information or your Social Security number over the phone. If someone is in true danger, a police officer will come to visit you.
- Alert your loved one about ongoing scams targeting seniors.
- Check in with them – frequently. Finally, home safety for seniors means checking in with your loved one. You, your loved one’s neighbors, and a professional caregiver can help to make sure they are safe.
- Do you live in the same town or city as your aging parent? Drop in unannounced to get a better idea of how your parents are truthfully doing.
- Monitor a senior in extreme hot or cold weather (when the risk of heat stroke or frostbite is higher).
- Encourage your loved one to wear an alert necklace to call emergency services in the event of a fall.
- Remind a senior to move more slowly from one room to the next – there is often no reason to rush.
- Recommend your senior to call you for help before trying to tackle a cleaning or repair job independently.
This can seem to be a long – and perhaps overwhelming – “to-do” list for family caregivers. Choose one job to start with or delegate the tasks between other family members. By safeguarding the senior’s home, you will be encouraging the senior to remain at home
– healthy and happy. And that means less worry for both of you over the long term!
The National Council on Aging
Learn about our senior care services here: https://homecareassistance.com/senior-elderly-care