As loved ones age, family members may have growing concerns about safety. Physical changes associated with aging may raise new safety issues in the homes of senior citizens, so it's important to create a safe environment for independent living.
Making Home Safer
Fortunately, there are many ways to make the home environment much safer for elderly adults.
1. Fire Safety
While smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers are essential safety equipment in every home, placing these items in easy-to-access locations is especially important in the home of a senior citizen. Impaired hearing may make it difficult to hear an alarm sounding in another part of the house, so it's important to place carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors in frequently used spaces such as bedrooms, bathrooms, the kitchen, and the living room. Likewise, impaired mobility may make it more difficult to get to a fire extinguisher quickly for small fires, so store several in easy-to-reach places such as in a kitchen cupboard, in the bedroom, in the bathroom, and in the living room. If possible, make smoke detectors part of a monitored alarm system, which decreases fire department response time.
2. Safer Bathrooms
Showers can be slick, making them dangerous for senior citizens with limited mobility or poor eyesight. There are multiple ways to increase the safety of baths and showers for the elderly.
- Grab bars help with stability, and can prevent slips and falls. Likewise, a grab bar installed near the entrance to a tub or shower will give the senior something to hold onto when stepping over the edge of the tub. Install grab bars at arm height, as well as one at about waist height. You can also install a grab bar next to the toilet so seniors can pull themselves up and safely lower themselves.
- Rubber mats or decals renders tile less slippery, minimizing the risk of slipping and falling.
- Shower seats give seniors a place to safely sit during a shower. These improve safety by allowing them to sit if they feel dizzy or tired. Choose a sturdy seat that affixes firmly to the floor of the tub or shower.
- A cordless phone next to the tub or shower can help a senior make an emergency phone call if he does fall.
- Walk-in tubs and showers eliminate the risk associated with the high-step into the bath tub/shower that is a trip and fall hazard.
- Taller toilets make it easier to get up and down. Many major manufacturers make toilets with higher seats, which can improve safety for those with mobility impairments.
3. Monitored Alarm Systems
Along with a monitored fire alarm system, seniors will be safer with monitored burglar alarms, as well as a personal emergency response and home safety alert system, such as Life Alert. Choose monitored alarm systems that have easily accessible panic buttons. These systems provide easy ways for seniors to call for help if they are injured, sick, or unable to get to a telephone.
4. Accessible Phones
Providing elderly people with phones that are easy to access and use can increase safety because it allows them to more easily call for help. Seniors should have multiple cordless phones strategically placed around the house or a cell phone they carry with them at all times. Pre-program phones with emergency contact numbers, and select phones with large buttons that are easy to see and press. Post emergency numbers at eye level near every phone.
5. Safer Rugs
Scatter rugs, runners, area rugs, and bath mats may be tripping hazards for seniors experiencing issues with balance and eyesight. Remove these rugs, or carefully secure them in place with tape, tacks, or non-skid backing.
6. More Lighting
Inadequate lighting may cause accidents. Make sure all high-traffic areas have bright, easily accessible lighting. Install automated and safety lighting inside and outside of the house. Outside, install motion activated safety lights, which can provide visibility for seniors after dark and may discourage intruders, as well. Inside, install an automated lighting system so the senior can easily access and turn on lights without having to cross a room to find a light switch.
7. Safer Stairs
Indoor and outdoor stairs may also provide hazards for seniors. Take the following precautions to make stairs safer.
- Outside, install non-skid strips on steps and porches to provide extra traction when they are wet.
- Tighten all handrails and banisters to provide a sturdy support for ascending and descending stairs. If stairs do not have a handrail, install one at slightly lower than elbow height.
- Remove runners from stairways, which can be a tripping hazard.
- Indoors on wooden stairs, install non-skid strips.
- Consider a stair lift for adults with decreased mobility.
- Install ramps for seniors using walkers or wheelchairs.
8. Outdoor Safety
Outdoor areas have a number of safety hazards that need to be secured to keep senior citizens safe.
- Trim trees, plants, and hedges so they don't infringe on walkways.
- Maintain adequate outdoor lighting. Consider installing pathway lighting to help improve nighttime visibility.
- Fix cracked, broken, or displaced pavers and tiles, which can be tripping hazards.
- Level rough patches of lawn that may have bumps or holes that can be tripping hazards.
- Install non-skid decking, or use materials on decks to keep it safer in wet weather.
- Fix broken steps and loose or uneven boards on decks and porches.
- Tighten handrails and deck rails so they are secure to grip.
- Keep sidewalks clear of debris that could cause trips and falls.
Make bedrooms safer with several bedroom upgrades.
- Install sturdy bed rails to assist with getting in and out of bed.
- Place a phone next to the bed and post emergency phone numbers where they are easy to see.
- Create some kind of emergency escape in case of fire, such as a window safety slide.
- Adjust bed height so it is not too difficult to get in or out of. Medical professionals suggest a safe bed height is at knee level or lower. An adjustable bed can also increase safety, making it safer for seniors to get in and out of bed.
- Use a firm mattress on the bed which makes it easier to get off the bed.
- Place lighting controls next to the bed and just inside the door so the senior does not have to cross the room in the dark.
- Install a night light or small lamp in en-suite bathrooms so it's easier to find the way in the dark.
10. Prepare for Power Outages
If there's a sudden power outage, darkened rooms present a safety hazard for senior citizens. To prepare for power outages, consider the following:
- Cordless phones only work with electricity. Make sure the senior citizen has a cell phone or at least one hard-wired line that doesn't require electricity to use.
- Store flashlights and fresh batteries strategically around the house. Place them in easy-to-reach drawers in commonly used areas, such as in a bedside table, in kitchen and bathroom drawers, and inside tables next to couches or chairs in the living room.
- Install some battery operated lighting in commonly used areas to help with illumination during power outages.
- Find a neighbor who is willing to check on a vulnerable senior during power outages to ensure he remains safe.
Peace of Mind
Taking appropriate safety precautions in the home of an elderly loved one not only makes her safer, it also provides you with peace of mind. Furthermore, it lays the foundation for independent living.