Aging in place is a goal for many seniors, but living alone at home also poses many different challenges. Traditional homes aren’t designed for seniors and their needs and limitations, which can make aging in place tough. If you’re wondering what to do, follow this home safety checklist for seniors to make your house both safer and more comfortable. It is possible for many people to age in place, but it takes work and preparation. Here’s what you can do to make aging in place easier, from installing grab bars to wearing adaptive clothing:
Remove tripping hazards.
One in four older adults falls every year, for a total of 36 million falls, making tripping and falling one of the biggest risks to seniors. Many items at home present a serious tripping risk, including loose rugs, electrical cords and anything left on the floor. Go through your whole home and identify any trip and fall risks and then remove them from your home. If a rug or cord can’t be moved out of the way, then tape it in place so that it can’t move. Also, try to make an effort to keep the floor clutter-free and to put every item away as soon as you’re done using it.
Create non-slip surfaces.
Once you have removed fall risks, you can focus on creating non-slip surfaces in critical areas. Add non-slip rubber mats to any tubs and showers. Make sure they are secured so they can’t be moved. While expensive, installing rubber flooring in your bathroom can also help cut down on fall risks. If you have hardwood stairs — another major fall risk — then cover them with carpet or install rubber treads. If any of your other floors are slippery or worn down, consider replacing them before you slip on them.
Make sure the home is well-lit.
Loose items on the ground aren’t the only thing that can pose a trip and fall risk. Bad lighting will keep you from seeing where you are going, potentially causing you to fall as well. Make sure that the entire house is well-lit and that light switches are easy to reach. Replace burnt out or dim bulbs as soon as they begin to fail. You may want to install motion sensitive lights in areas such as hallways and stairs, and you may also want to place them underneath cabinets as well. If you don’t have enough overhead lighting and end up using floor and table lamps, be sure that the electrical cords are placed out of the way so they do not cause a fall risk.
Always wear shoes at home.
Another item on the home safety checklist for seniors is wearing shoes at home. Bare feet, socks and shoes with smooth soles all pose a trip and fall hazard, so it’s best to wear shoes with non-slip soles whenever you are moving around at home. If you don’t want to track dirt inside, then buy a dedicated pair of shoes just for the house. These can be house shoes or just a regular pair of non-slip shoes that you only wear around your home. As an added bonus, this practice will help keep your feet warm and regulate your temperature better.
Make it easy to get dressed.
Getting dressed can be really difficult for elderly people and even potentially cause them injury if they sprain something while trying to wiggle into a shirt. Senior clothing is specifically designed for older people with mobility limitations, making it easier to continue dressing yourself even after regular clothing becomes a struggle. Innovations such as elastic waist pants, magnetic closures on shirts and velcro on shoes ensure that you will be dressed in no time with minimal fuss.
Install grab bars.
Installing grab bars in the bathroom is another must for seniors. Grab bars make it easy to lower yourself down on the toilet and also keep your balance in the shower while you are washing yourself. Be sure to follow the installation instructions so they are secured to the wall. You’ll be putting almost your entire weight on them, so they need to be able to take it. If you have trouble getting on the toilet even with a grab bar, a toilet seat riser will raise the seat so you don’t have to squat as far down.
Follow fire safety guidelines.
Install smoke detectors in all necessary areas and change the batteries twice a year to make sure they stay fresh. If the fire alarms don’t also have carbon monoxide detection, then you will need to install alarms for that as well. Make sure that heaters are at least three feet away from items that can catch fire, such as curtains or rugs, and never leave them running in an empty room. Don’t leave candles burning unattended, either. If any appliances have damaged electrical cords, replace them with newer models. Be careful not to plug too many electrical cords into one outlet or extension cord or you might trip a breaker.
Watch the temperature.
Many older adults find themselves getting cold more easily as they age. In the winter, make sure that bigger rooms are heated properly. Leave blankets in every room so you can stay warm, and utilize space heaters if you have to. Just make sure not to leave them running unattended and to keep them away from anything flammable. If your home gets really hot in the summer, then use window AC units and fans to keep cool. You can also set the temperature on the water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent scalds (any lower and it might let bacteria flourish, so this is the sweet spot).
Keep furniture in good shape.
Furniture wears down over time, becoming wobbly and unstable. Do an annual or semiannual inspection of all your furniture and make necessary adjustments or repairs. Pay special attention to tables and chairs, which you will frequently put weight on as you sit down or stand up. Also, double-check bookshelves and other heavy objects that could tip over, resulting in a crash. If the floor of your house is uneven, which is rather common in older homes, then you might need to use wooden shims to level it out.
Reduce stair trips where possible.
Going up and down the stairs poses a major risk for seniors, so it’s wise to eliminate as many trips as possible. Don’t store necessary items in a basement or attic if at all possible. Move everything that you need on a regular basis to the ground floor so you can access it easily. If you live in a two-level home and can’t get around taking the stairs, consider getting a stair lift installed so that you don’t have to walk up and down by yourself. While expensive, stair lifts make aging in place in a two-level much safer.
Optimize your kitchen.
Besides the bathroom, the kitchen is another main source of hazards for seniors. Go through the cabinets and try to move everything that you use often down to a lower shelf so you don’t have to reach. If you don’t have enough cabinet space for that, then invest in a sturdy step stool with one or two steps that won’t tip over when you climb on it. Regularly clean out the refrigerator and the pantry and discard anything that is past its expiration date. If the sink handles are hard to turn, get some rubberized grips that will make it easier to turn the faucet on and off (you can even get ones that are color-coordinated for hot and cold).
Don’t forget the bedroom.
The bathroom and kitchen get a lot of attention — with good reason — but it’s important not to neglect the bedroom either. As seniors age, many of them find that a firmer mattress makes it easier to get in and out of bed. You might also wish to install a grab bar next to the bed to further aid in this process. Replacing round door knobs with a lever-style knob will also make it easier for seniors to get in and out of the room as needed.
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Know prescription directions.
Many older adults have to take at least one medication, if not more, to manage chronic health problems. Leave medications in their original containers so you don’t accidentally mix them up. If you have trouble reading the labels, ask the pharmacist to use large print versions to make it easier on your eyes. Take your medications in a well-lit area so you can clearly read the labels. Familiarize yourself with the prescription directions until you know how much you should take and how often. Bring your bottles along with you to doctors’ appointments so that your provider can review everything that you are taking.
Have an emergency plan.
Have emergency phone numbers posted somewhere visible and accessible. The fridge is a popular place, but you might also want to place them in multiple areas around the house so that you don’t have to go all the way to the kitchen if an emergency does arrive. These numbers should include 9-1-1, the poison hotline, your doctor’s office and all your loved ones. If you are worried about not being able to make it to the phone (for instance, if you trip and fall), then you might want to consider a medical alert system. These come with a wearable pendant that lets you summon help with the press of a single button when you can’t get to a phone.
Don’t make decisions under stress.
Not everyone has your best interests at heart, even people that you think you know well. Many people try to pressure seniors into parting with their money, hoping to take advantage of someone who is aging and vulnerable. If someone is pressuring you to make a quick decision, especially one that involves money, take a pause to carefully consider it. Don’t pay money, sign a contract or make a donation until you are 100 percent sure that it is what you want to do and that the person or organization you are paying is legitimate.
Be alert for scammers.
Unfortunately, elderly people are vulnerable targets for scammers, both online and in person. Never let someone into your home if you don’t know them, and always discuss sales offers with a friend or family member before purchasing anything. If you are contacted with any information about offers, prizes or charities, thoroughly review all the information and vet the organization before responding. Keep your personal information — including social security numbers, credit and bank account numbers and account passwords — closely guarded.
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