Familiar surroundings are often the key to an older adult’s sense of well-being. Household hazards, however, can pose serious safety problems that can cause injury and even threaten independence. Falls and other accidents around the home are the leading cause of hospitalization and emergency room visits for older adults. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans aged 65+ falls annually. Home is the number one place where they fall and only less than fifty percent would let their physician know about it.
Below are a few obvious (and some not-so-obvious) ways to keep a loved one safe while they enjoy their lives and age in place.
Healthy Aging In Place Starts With Safety
1. Add bars and railings
Sturdy bars around the bathroom and in the shower/bath area can make daily use safer and more secure. Make sure stairway railings are secure and easy to use as well. Adding railings to hallways can also make for safer walking and fall protection.
2. Secure and organize cords
Check that all cords and wires are placed against the wall or away from walking paths so that they are not a tripping hazard, especially if the older adult is using a walker. A twist tie can be a great method to keep cords together and untangled to increase safety. However, never run wires or cords underneath rugs or carpet as it’s a fire hazard.
3. Keep things accessible
Make sure things your loved one uses regularly are on a low shelf, counter or other easily accessible storage area. Keeping items off high shelves eliminates the need to get up on a stool or reach for things over the head, which can lead to strains, loss of balance and potential falls. If gripping is a problem, replace standard door knobs with levers that can be more easily used.
4. Prioritize bathroom safety. Seriously.
Many accidents happen in the bathroom, but there are several modifications that can be made to help reduce risk. Slipping in the bathtub or shower is a real concern for many older adults. At a minimum, place non-slip shower mats or stickers on surfaces that get wet. Installing grab bars can also help prevent falls and make getting up easier if a fall does happen. Consider a shower chair and handheld shower if your loved is unstable on his or her feet or has difficulty standing. Walk-in showers—with no threshold or barrier to entry—are the safest option.
You want to make using the toilet as easy as possible for your older adult. Installing grab bars or transition-assist rims can make the sitting and standing motion easier. For older adults with low vision, consider bars with contrasting colors. A toilet seat riser can be helpful for older adults with knee or back issues.
5. Fall-proof the floors
Make sure all rugs are non-slip or secured to the floor. Even secured throw rugs with a high pile can be a tripping hazard because of the change in surface. You may consider removing rugs entirely. Clear away any clutter that could be a tripping hazard such as books, shoes or shopping bags. Falls often happen in places with elevation changes, so consider zero-threshold entryways and widened doorways.
6. Light up the night
Many falls happen at night when an older adult is trying to use the bathroom. Consider placing nightlights in hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms to improve navigation. A bedside commode can also be used to reduce risks of falling in the dark. Make sure all walkways are well lit during the day as many older adults have impaired vision and require more light.
7. Go big!
Rushing to answer the phone is a common cause of falling. Consider getting your loved one a phone that announces who is calling or using a large-buttoned mobile phone that can be easily carried. If low vision or mobility is a problem for your older adult, there are many options for making their life easier. Phones and remote controls with large displays can help foster independence.
8. Get Smart
There are many smart home options that can ensure the health and safety of older adults. Electronically controllable thermostats, lighting, motion sensors and smart doorbells can make life easier and safer. Electric stovetop guards can make sure the stove doesn’t get left on while smart pill dispensers can ensure proper medication use. Many of these tools can be monitored from outside the home, giving a caregiver that does not live onsite additional peace of mind.
9. Prepare for the worst
Keep emergency numbers handy and programmed into landlines and cell phones. These include 911, poison control, an emergency friend, a neighbor or family member and a healthcare provider’s office. A medical alert system that is always kept with an older adult’s body so that they can get immediate help in case of emergency isn’t a bad idea if the individual does not have a regular, daily check in. It’s also important to discuss fall and other medical emergency plans with your aging adult, so that they know what to do in case of emergency.
10. Adapt the home as needed
Home safety should be revisited at least once a year or after any changes in health or mobility status. Aging gracefully is a difficult task, and many times older adults might not be upfront about problems they are having in their home due to embarrassment, overconfidence or lack of awareness. When visiting, make note of changes such as additional clutter, neglected garbage or other problems.
Generally speaking, the best way to prevent major issues and health complications as a loved one ages is to be prepared, make gradual improvements to surroundings and have plans in place. Injury and illness prevention is a daily and hourly endeavor that can add exponentially more value to a loved one’s life. Safeguard their independence and home to help aging in place an easier reality.