Everyone ages differently and some people enjoy the social benefits that come with a senior living facility or other communal living situation. Often, these residences are already designed with elderly residents in mind. Other seniors, however, may prefer to remain in their current homes as long as possible, often referred to as “aging in place.”
If you know someone who wants to age in place, their home may need some adjustments to allow them to remain safely independent. In this article, we’ll cover some issues that pertain to safety for seniors and outline ways to increase the safety and security of your home.
Common Senior Safety Issues at Home
Decreased mobility and declining health are unfortunate effects of the aging process, and the factors listed below should be kept in mind when considering how to modify your house for yourself or a loved one.
Mobility and Accessibility
Perhaps no issue is more important than ensuring that elderly residents can access anything in the home that they’ll need. For example, a person with limited mobility may not be able to navigate stairs safely and require ramps or lifts.
What if your loved one drops their phone or another important object behind or beneath the couch? Will necessary mobility equipment (walkers, wheelchairs, etc.) fit through doorways? Can your loved one reach food, medicine, or other items on higher shelves? Are important systems and appliances, such as your air conditioning and water heater, in good working condition? Thinking through the needs of daily life becomes very important when preparing your home.
Anyone of any age can trip and fall, but falls can be life-or-death for some senior citizens. A recent study in The Journal of Trauma showed that a minor ground-level fall was three times more likely to result in death for adults aged 70 and over than for the general population. Chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and osteoporosis, make falls much more dangerous for older adults and any injuries will take longer to heal and have lasting consequences.
Though the majority of falls—even in elderly adults—don’t result in serious injury, some senior citizens come to fear falling so much that they refuse to participate in activities they once enjoyed. This can decrease the quality of life and eliminate much-needed exercise, so it’s important to create a home environment that’s as safe as possible.
While you can never completely eliminate fall risks, doing as much as you can to reduce falls has both physical and mental benefits.
Natural Disasters and Fire Safety
Events that would be catastrophic for anyone, including natural disasters and fires, can be especially dangerous to aging parents and seniors who have limited mobility and may not be able to escape a dangerous situation as quickly as others. It’s important to have all of the appropriate alarms and emergency plans in place prior to these events. Communication is also vital for those who don’t drive and may not be able to evacuate on their own.
Fortunately, Americans who are 65 and older are the least likely of all age groups to be the victims of either violent crimes or property crimes, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, many elderly adults still worry about being unable to protect themselves and their homes from would-be criminals. Again, peace of mind is highly important to a senior’s quality of life, so making every effort to guard one’s home is worth the time and effort.
How To Make a Home Safe for Elderly Residents
The changes you need to make to your home or apartment will depend on your particular situation, but here are some general recommendations for improving your home’s safety for seniors. If you need help with any of these changes, AARP can help you find a local agency that will perform a safety evaluation on your home.
Before you start adding anything to your home, look around for items that may need to be removed or stabilized. For example, unsecured throw rugs, furniture in poor repair, extension or electric cords, and loose railings can all increase the chances of a fall.
Some items may need to be removed entirely, including clutter on the floors and stairs as well as pet toys. If there’s a pet in the home, consider creating a specific and secure area for the animal, particularly at times when elderly residents may be moving around.
Additionally, you can put non-slip wax on wood or tile floors and non-skid treads on any uncarpeted stairs. Chairs or other furniture with wheels can usually be altered to remove the wheels easily enough. Replace throw rugs and regular bath mats with versions that have rubberized or adhesive backings. All of these changes will go a long way toward minimizing slip-and-fall accidents.
While there are some modifications you can make yourself, you may need help with others. For example, if elderly residents need walkers or wheelchairs to move around the house, you may need to widen doorways or add ramps.
Examine all of the thresholds and entryways into and within your home, including the front door. Can they be safely crossed in a wheelchair or by someone who can’t lift their feet very high? If not, you may need to bring in a contractor to make some structural changes.
Install Safety and Accessibility Equipment
After removing obvious hazards, install or purchase equipment that makes it safe to use the rooms and appliances in your home.
Bathroom safety is paramount, since wet tile and floors present a serious danger of slipping. Buy textured non-slip strips for bathtubs and showers and add grips or grab bars by showers and toilets for extra stability. Consider replacing a regular toilet with a model that has a high profile and a raised seat. For the shower, add a waterproof seat or chair and consider installing a removable handheld showerhead to reduce the risk of falls.
Additionally, you can make the rest of the house more accessible by replacing door knobs with lever handles that are easier to turn and pull. Install nightlights in key places, especially between bedrooms and bathrooms, and evaluate your home’s lighting as a whole to see where you can improve visibility. Add lamps and replace light bulbs as necessary.
For larger modifications, consider reaching out to a professional. Plenty of companies make showers and bathtubs that allow users to open a door and step in rather than having to lift one’s feet over the edge of a tub. If light switches and electrical outlets are unreachable by those in wheelchairs, you may need to hire an electrician for some rewiring. If stairs are an unavoidable part of the house, install a motorized system called a stairlift that allows users to sit and ride between floors.
Invest In a Medical Alert System
For elderly adults living alone, a medical alert system is a must. There are basic models that involve pushing a button and smartphone-based systems for an easily accessible operation. What the different systems have in common is the ability to make contacting emergency services quick and easy no matter where you or a loved one are in the house.
Make sure you or the system’s user is comfortable with the technology. At the very least, consider buying a wearable button that you can press to dial 911 and/or alert family members or neighbors.
Install a Home Security System
In recent years, many home security companies have begun to sell systems that you can install yourself. These systems range from simple alarms with professional monitoring to full smart home systems that link your lights and thermostat to your phone.
While there are many choices for medical alert and home security systems, we recommend Alder, which combines both. Alder’s senior-friendly packages include devices for home security, fire and carbon monoxide detection, and medical alerts. Specifically, Alder’s medical alert pendant allows you to summon emergency services with the push of a button.
What the Professionals Suggest
“Making the appropriate accommodations and safety improvements are essential for helping seniors remain independent. These measures will help with physical limitations, however, seniors experiencing cognitive impairments may be safer in an assisted living community with daily support such as medication management and personal care.” - Brenda West, Director of Operations for Elderwood Assisted Living
Emergency Hotlines for Senior Safety
In the event of an emergency, it’s important to have emergency contact information accessible to you and your loved ones. Here are a few hotlines you should have displayed within the home, listed in phone contacts, and memorized:
- Life-threatening emergencies: 911
- Local police department
- Local hospital
- Family doctor
- Poison control: 1-800-222-1222
- State elder abuse hotline
Other Senior Safety Tips and Tricks
Safety for seniors isn’t just about modifying your home—it involves modifying some of your behavior as well. Here are some ways you can help keep safe as you or a loved one ages in place:
- Regularly test smoke detectors and change their batteries twice a year (or as recommended).
- Avoid wearing loose sleeves while cooking, which can be a fire hazard.
- Don’t leave lit candles unattended, particularly while sleeping.
- Wear non-slip footwear while inside.
- Purchase portable assistive devices, such as grabbers and step stools.
- Know exactly what you’ll do in case of an emergency. Conduct fire drills or other safety drills a few times per year.
- Keep a list of emergency phone numbers handy.
- If possible, sleep on the ground floor of your home for an easy exit in case of an emergency.
- Consider using services that offer daily check-ins on seniors such as Iamfine.
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