Family members often express concern to us about the safety of their elderly loved ones who live alone at home. With aging comes higher risks for serious injuries resulting from accidents, so making sure a home is a safe living space is essential. Here are some around-the-house tips for making any home safer.
General Home Safety
Clear hallways and high-traffic areas: Loose area rugs and electrical cords in walkways create potential tripping hazards. Decluttering traffic areas helps lower the risk of falling and serious injury.
Keep smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in working order: Experts suggest replacing smoke and carbon-monoxide detector batteries at least twice a year to ensure they are working correctly. Failing to maintain alarms properly could prevent emergency responders from receiving notifications when problems arise.
Have a walker or cane on hand: Many older adults will experience trouble maintaining their balance from time to time. It’s a good idea to keep a walker or cane handy should someone become unstable when moving around the house.
Keep medications organized: As they age, many adults have new prescription medications to take. Keeping several medication dosages straight can be difficult—and lead to confusion about which drugs you have or haven’t taken. Labeling medications clearly and using a daily pill organizer help ensure medications are consumed correctly and in the prescribed dosages.
Simplify kitchen cabinets. Storing too many items in kitchen cabinets can make accessing everyday household items difficult or dangerous. Consider decluttering cabinets by installing Lazy Susan turntables that provide easy access to hard-to-reach kitchen items.
Store heavy objects at waist level: Reaching for heavy objects can be a struggle for seniors and create unnecessary injury risks. Avoid storing heavy objects such as pots, pans, or bulk cooking ingredients in high places that require ladders or stools to access.
Keep emergency phone numbers convenient: Place emergency numbers and other relevant contact information in an easy-to-remember place, such as on the refrigerator door. Having all emergency phone numbers in one place helps aging loved ones find help when it’s needed quickly.
Have a fire extinguisher nearby: Keep a working extinguisher near the stove in case of kitchen fires.
Install handrails and shower seats: Handrails or grab bars on walls in bathtubs and showers and near toilets help older adults stabilize themselves when maneuvering about the bathroom. Shower seats limit standing times and help reduce the risk of slipping in the tub.
Maintain safe water temperatures: As we age, our skin becomes more sensitive to hot water temperatures. Set water heater temperatures to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or less to avoid accidental burning and scalding.
Light the way: Bathroom night lights help reduce the risk for middle-of-the-night tripping.
Arrange furniture with walking in mind: A proper furniture layout creates clear walkways and reduces tripping dangers, especially in the dark.
Have the proper bed height: Older adults can experience difficulty getting in and out of beds that are too high or too low. Adding or removing box springs helps adjust a bed to the appropriate height.
Declutter closets: While overstuffed closets make retrieving items difficult, they also put seniors at risk for being struck by falling objects. Donating unused clothing can create easier-to- access closets.
Garage and Outdoor Safety
Clear outdoor walkways of snow and ice: Snow or ice-covered sidewalks can lead to slipping and serious injuries. However, older adults often need help shoveling sidewalks and driveways. If possible, hire a professional service to handle snow and ice removal.
Don’t forget outdoor lighting: Proper lighting is essential for seeing when entering and exiting the house at night. Motion sensors turn on lights automatically should you forget to, and also help to deter potential burglars.
Install ramps: Navigating stairs to enter the house via the front door or the garage can prove troublesome for older adults. Installing ramps to replace stairs helps create easier access into and out of the house.
At Sunset’s rehabilitation center, we work with many older clients who are recovering from injuries they incurred at home. That’s why we know that preventing an injury is always preferable to rehabilitation.
"We often hear from older people who insist they've lived in their homes for 30 years and they've been doing fine," says Kara Lavey, rehab director at Sunset Village. "As therapists, we emphasize that our bodies change as we age and we need to adapt to remain independent in our homes or in an appropriate facility."
We hope these tips help keep you and your loved ones safe in the comfort of your home.