Tell Me About: Home Safety: Making Home Functional and Safe for Aging and Injured Adults
By David Seymour, MD, Medical Director, the Rehabilitation Center at Atrium
Are you concerned about the health and safety of an older parent or grandparent who lives alone? Is an aging loved one returning home following a hospital stay for a stroke, joint replacement surgery or other disabling illness or injury?
There are ways you can help make home a safer, more comfortable place for the older adults you love while helping them maintain the independent lifestyle they enjoy.
Take a minute to print out the handy checklist below. Then make a careful, room-by-room inspection of your loved one’s home with the list in hand. You’ll be playing an important role in improving their safety and self-reliance while enhancing your own peace of mind.
- Remove all area rugs and runners that are not anchored permanently to the floor. Adhesive tapes and slip-resistant backing can deteriorate over time; don’t count on these to prevent your loved ones from slipping or tripping.
- Remove clutter around the bed. Be sure that hallways, stairways and other pathways throughout the house are also clear of clutter. If your parent or grandparent is walking, unnecessary items can cause falls. If a wheelchair is used, a clearance of approximately 32 inches is needed for most models.
- Install additional lighting if stairways and hallways are not well lit. Replace low-wattage light bulbs with the highest wattage allowed by each light fixture. Because vision diminishes greatly with age, older adults need two to three times more light to see effectively.
- Install nightlights for late night trips to the bathroom and kitchen.
- Keep the thermostat at no lower than 65 degrees during night time hours. Decreased body temperature can lead to dizziness and lightheadedness.
- Check to make sure the handrails on stairways are sturdy and secure. Consider mounting handrails on both sides of the stairway.
- Falls in the bathroom are a major cause of injury. Install non-skid strips or rubber mats in tubs and showers to prevent slips and falls.
- Ordinary toilets are often too low for those who have had surgical procedures, such as hip replacements, or those with arthritic joints. Install an elevated toilet seat in at least one bathroom. Some raised seats come with arm handles for extra safety.
- You can reduce the likelihood of a bathroom injury by mounting “grab bars” beside toilets and in the shower. Don’t depend on towel racks for this purpose; ordinary towel racks are not intended to withstand the weight of a human being and will break away easily from the wall. Invest in ADA (American Disabilities Act) approved grab bars designed to meet the needs of the physically challenged.
- Hide all electrical cords. Exposed cords are difficult for older eyes to see and easy for balance-impaired individuals to trip over. Rearrange the room so that all lamps and appliances are close to wall outlets. Never cover an electrical cord with a rug or extend it across a traffic area.
- Place frequently used items in easy-to-reach places. For example, place telephones, medications and often-used kitchen items on low countertops. Eliminate the need to stand on dangerous ladders and stools by investing in a “reacher”—an assistive device designed to help those with limited mobility grab hard-to-reach items.
- More than half of older adults who leave the hospital following a stroke or other illness or injury do so in a wheelchair. Consider simple ways to make the home wheelchair friendly, such as removing inside doors and unnecessary furniture that can block travel.
- Remove deep-pile carpets that inhibit the movement of a wheelchair. Thick carpet can make navigation difficult for anyone with balance issues, even those who are not in a wheelchair.
- Install wheelchair ramps at entry doors. Some hospitals, including Middletown Regional Hospital, sponsor Wheelchair Clinics at which wheelchair users gain valuable assistance and instruction on purchasing a wheelchair, installing a ramp and modifying the home or automobile to accommodate wheelchair use. Ask your physician for a referral to the Wheelchair Clinic nearest you.
If you have other questions or concerns about your loved one’s health or safety, be sure to discuss them with his or her physician. The family physician can refer your relative to an occupational or physical therapist who can make a home safety visit, suggest helpful adaptive equipment or design a therapeutic program to help them function at a higher level.
According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, public opinion surveys show that the overwhelming majority of older adults desire to remain in their own home as long as they possibly can. By following these simple tips, you can help those you care about stay safe and healthy longer while maintaining maximum freedom and independence.
Content Updated: December 3, 2014