Creating a Safe Haven for Seniors Who Want to Age in Place

Ken Elliot
July 31, 2018

By Kent Elliot from At Home Aging

A home should be a haven from the world, but for many seniors, aging in place is fraught with dangers. Everyday activities that once were routine may put an older adult at risk for serious injury unless accessibility modifications are made. Safeguarding an elderly person’s home can not only prevent physical injury, it can keep an older person at home as they age, which is the wish of most Americans. Many modifications can be made easily and inexpensively.

Preventing Falls

Falling is a frequent safety concern among seniors who choose to age in place. More than one-third of Americans over 65 suffer falls in the home each year. Tripping is a frequent cause, so the more room an elderly person has to maneuver in, the better. There should be unimpeded pathways through each room with something to hold onto and provide balance. Use it as a chance to declutter and get rid of excess furniture that makes it difficult to safely move around. Don’t forget to remove area rugs and carpet runners that could bunch up and create a tripping hazard. Electrical cords should be covered or placed along the wall, and if there are pets in the home, be sure to keep pet dishes and toys put away against the wall or in a far corner.

Adjust the Water Heater

Most people turn on the water in the bathroom or kitchen without a second thought. However, seniors are vulnerable to burns if they forget to adjust the stream or leave the hot water on too long. Water heaters are often set at a default temperature that’s too high for seniors. Reset the temperature from 140 to 120 degrees to reduce the possibility of scalding, which can also cause an elderly person to fall in the shower as they react to the pain.

Add More Lighting

Take a walk throughout the house to determine where there isn’t enough lighting, especially in highly trafficked areas like hallways and entryways. Diminished vision is often a result of the aging process, so adequate lighting is important for preventing falls. Adding a floor or table lamp can usually make a difference in dimly lit rooms. If that isn’t an option in the hall, consider adding light tape or stick-on lights. Take advantage of natural light by removing heavy drapes and using retractable blinds or sheer curtains.

Door Access

Door knobs can be difficult for some seniors to use easily, especially those who use a cane, walker, or wheelchair, or seniors with arthritis, joint pain, or weakened gripping ability. Consider installing lever handles, which can be turned easily without applying much pressure. Bear in mind that kitchen and bathroom faucets can also be replaced with lever handles, though installing them requires tools and the ability to use them, which might make it necessary to ask a younger family member or neighbor for assistance.

Bathroom Safety

Most in-home falls happen in the bathroom on wet, slippery surfaces or during bathing or toileting so be sure to place traction slips or non-skid tape in the bathtub or shower, and in front of the sink and toilet. This is one of the most important DIY measures you can take because a slip in the bathroom can result in a serious, even fatal head injury. Install grab rails alongside the toilet and in the shower, and consider adding a shower seat to minimize the likelihood of a fall.

Creating a safe home environment for an elderly person is largely a matter of common sense. A thorough review of the house will reveal many potential danger areas and help you identify safety concerns. Doing so will help an elderly loved one stay safe and happy in their own home.

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