For older adults want to age in place, it is important to recognize potential safety challenges and take necessary steps to improve senior home safety. If physical or cognitive decline sets in, senior home safety risks can arise, but taking proper steps can help ensure our elderly loved ones are safe in their homes.
Unfortunately, many homes are not fit for seniors to safely age in place. The US Census Bureau recently published a troubling report, Old Housing, New Needs: Are U.S. Homes Ready for an Aging Population? According to this report, only 10% of our nation’s housing units are suitable for older populations.
Why does this matter? The CDC report Take a Stand Against Falls states that among older Americans, falls are the number one cause of injuries and death from injury. Each year, there are 29 million falls, 3 million emergency room visits, 800,000 hospitalizations, and 28,000 deaths among seniors. For those who survive a fall, the injuries sustained can limit an older adult’s quality of life.
In my years of work with seniors, I have seen that falls in the home are the most common reason for a move to a care community. An injury can lead a senior down a devastating downward spiral of declining health. Eventually, this will sap their ability to live independently, which is why it is important to take proactive action to improve senior home safety.
As sad as it was to see cases where proactive steps might have prevented life-changing events, my hope is that you can learn from these stories to address senior home safety and create a safer home for your elderly loved ones. Take action on these six home modifications to improve senior home safety and help older adults to preserve mobility, self-sufficiency, and their best possible life!
Table of Contents
- Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #1: Improve Stairway Safety Throughout Senior’s Home
- Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #2: Ensure Safe Entry to Improve Senior Home Safety
- Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #3: Open Space and Easy Access Create a Safer Home
- Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #4: Improve Lighting to Enhance Safety Throughout the Home
- Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #5: Slip-Resistant Floors Make for a Safer Home
- Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #6: Increase Bathroom Safety Throughout the Home
- Next Steps
Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #1: Improve Stairway Safety Throughout Senior’s Home
Stairs can be very hazardous for aging adults and are a common location for serious falls. The optimal situation is to have all the needed rooms on the main floor, but this is not always possible.
I will never forget one of my favorite Senior Living residents. He’d been content and independent in his home in the mountains. He missed his wife of 62 years but found joy in being in the home they had shared, and still had many friends nearby. All that changed when he was seriously injured in a fall down the basement stairs.
This proud, self-sufficient man was making a routine trip down the stairs to do his laundry. The lighting was poor and he had started stashing items on the stairs that were hard for him to put away. He and his daughter hadn’t considered the tremendous hazard this created. This tragic accident might have been avoided with simple modifications, and while he transitioned well to senior living, he still would have preferred to age in place.
Here are a few suggestions to make the stairs safer and improve senior home safety.
- Ensure the stairs are well lit. Be sure there is an easy-to-reach switch at both the top and the bottom of the stairs. If not, consider having an electrician add it. An alternative could be adding motion-activated lights. Don’t skip this step!
- Install railings. Ensure every set of stairs in your home has two railings to grip while climbing or descending the stairs.
- Apply non-slip adhesive strips to the stairs.
- Be sure there are no items left on the stairs. Place a shelf or other storage nearby to collect any ‘stair clutter’.
- If vision or mobility are limited, reconfigure the living space to allow all needed rooms to be on one level. Many of my clients have made a den or other space into a bedroom. Some have reconfigured a closet to serve as a laundry room with a stacking washer and dryer.
- If mobility is severely limited, a stairlift is another option. A stairlift can provide a safe way to stay in a home if the bedroom and bath are upstairs.
Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #2: Ensure Safe Entry to Improve Senior Home Safety
Uneven walkways and multi-level entrances pose a different safety challenge to seniors than to young adults, which is why it is crucial to understand the steps you can take to improve senior home safety. It is important to ensure your elderly loved ones feel safe as they enter their home and as they navigate the inside of the home.
- Be sure the walkway, entrance to the home, or other outside areas are safe to navigate. Repair or replace any areas that are uneven or damaged and present tripping hazards.
- Trim or remove bushes that are overgrown and block a walkway.
- Add transition angled entry mats to create smooth transitions over doorway thresholds.
- Check that the exterior is well lit, and consider motion-activated exterior lights.
- More extensive modifications are likely needed for a walker or wheelchair. This can include widening doorways, adding ramps, and in some cases, adding a lift. A consultation with an Occupational Therapist or other professional is advised!
Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #3: Open Space and Easy Access Create a Safer Home
Seniors may not have the same balance they once did, so to maximize safety, you should eliminate cluttered pathways and other tripping hazards. Clearing up clutter is one of the simplest steps you can take to improve senior home safety.
- Arrange furniture so there is plenty of open space for moving around. Remove coffee tables, end tables, and unnecessary pieces!
- Clear the hallways. If there are stairs, be sure there is nothing placed on them!
- Be sure frequently used items or heavy items are easy to access without reaching or bending. This is a good time to dispose of all the items no longer needed that are taking space and creating clutter. Be sure it is easy to hang coats and place a chair or bench for removing or putting on shoes.
- Ensure there are no cords of any type running across open areas.
- Replace standard door knobs with levers.
- Increase doorway openings with inset hinges.
Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #4: Improve Lighting to Enhance Safety Throughout the Home
Seniors may need more light than younger adults to see the same things. It is important to ensure that lights are in working order and that bulbs are replaced on a regular basis. If a senior is suffering any signs of cognitive decline, it is important for a loved one or caregiver to check lights and smoke detectors, which will improve senior home safety.
- Ensure the lighting is good throughout all areas of use. Older adults need stronger lights to see as well as younger people. Excellent lighting in all work areas and stairs is essential.
- Place night lights in the bathroom, bedroom, hallways, and kitchen.
- Add motion or voice-activated lighting if the senior has limited mobility. This can increase ease of use and ensure no one is navigating in the dark.
Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #5: Slip-Resistant Floors Make for a Safer Home
Slip-resistant floors such as rugs are critical to senior home safety. Many older adults shuffle their feet when walking, so you should steps to upgrade floor traction and reduce fall risk to improve senior home safety.
- Remove throw rugs that can slip, move, and get bunched up. If this creates a battle, try a non-slip rug pad and test it!
- Secure all carpets to the floor with heavy-duty double-sided tape or carpet anchors. Remove any high-pile carpets as they create a tripping hazard.
- Apply a non-slip wax, and if there are slippery tiles apply a non-slip surface product.
- Transitions between rooms can be hazardous. Replace raised transition strips with flat strips. For floor surface transitions colored tape can be used to mark the transition. While this may not be aesthetically appealing, it can be critical if a senior has a vision, gait, or balance impairment that poses a safety risk.
Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety #6: Increase Bathroom Safety Throughout the Home
The greatest number of elderly falls occur in the bathroom. Here are a few key steps to take.
- Install grab bars by the toilet and inside and outside the shower or tub.
- Apply textured no-slip strips to the bathtub or shower.
- Place a water-proof shower chair in the shower for extra support.
- Use a rubber-backed bath mat.
- Install a raised or high-profile toilet. Or add a portable raised seat, with arm supports if needed.
- Be sure all needed items are accessible and easy to reach. Remove all clutter and dispose of expired prescriptions and personal care items.
Senior home safety is essential for elderly individuals to age in place. Many of the steps that can make a home safer, such as decluttering a staircase, are things that can be done for free. These simple tasks are easy to overlook, but as I have seen in my years partnering with seniors, neglecting basic home safety tasks often ends in tragedy for elderly individuals. This makes it important to be proactive about taking steps to improve senior home safety.
Once you have taken steps to improve senior home safety, you can rest easy knowing that you have taken sensible actions to safeguard an individual’s independence and autonomy.