Each year, about 36 million falls are reported among older adults in the United States, with one out of every five falls resulting in an injury, making falls a serious concern for seniors. Though homes should be a place of comfort, they can be a dangerous place for seniors. However, there are practical tips you can implement to make your home a safe place to avoid accidents and injuries. In this blog post, we will cover home safety tips, including a checklist provided by the CDC, to ensure that seniors can live independently in their own homes without the risk of injury. Let’s take a look at the various hazards and learn how to avoid them.
1) Keep Your Home Well-Lit
A well-lit home can help you avoid tripping or bumping into items, steps, and furniture and can help with navigating areas of the home with ease. For instance, in case you need to get up in the middle of the night, it’s helpful to have a lamp near the bed and a nightlight or two in the hallway.
Are you missing a light over the stairway? Have an electrician put in an overhead light at the top and bottom of the stairs.
Do you have only one light switch for your stairs (only at the top or at the bottom of the stairs)? Have an electrician put in a light switch at the top and bottom of the stairs. You can get light switches that glow.
Has the stairway light bulb burned out? Have a friend or family member change the light bulb.
Is the light near the bed hard to reach? Place a lamp close to the bed where it’s easy to reach.
Is the path from your bed to the bathroom dark? Put in a night-light so you can see where you’re walking. Some night-lights go on by themselves after dark.
Tip from the CDC: Replace your light bulbs with bright florescent bulbs and add lighting to dark areas throughout your home to create uniform lighting. If necessary, use lightweight curtains or shades to reduce glare. Additionally, if your steps are a dark color, consider painting a light color on the top edge of each step so you can see them better.
2) Install Grab Bars and Bed Rails
It can be challenging to sit down and stand up safely, especially if you experience weakness, dizziness, and balance issues, so adding grab bars near the toilet and in the shower can be extremely helpful. A bed rail is also good for times when you go from lying down to standing up with the change of position causing dizziness.
Are the stair handrails loose or broken? Is there a handrail on only one side of the stairs? Fix loose handrails or put in new ones. Make sure handrails are on both sides of the stairs and are as long as the stairs.
Do you need some support when you get in and out of the tub or up from the toilet? Have grab bars put in next to and inside the tub and next to the toilet.
Tip from the CDC: Be sure to get up slowly after you sit or lie down to prevent dizziness or a collapse. If you struggle with balance and weakness, there are exercises you can do to improve your balance and increase your strength.
Tip from Voyage LTC: An option to consider is aquatic therapy - a form of physical therapy that can help improve balancing skills and strengthen muscles. Read more about aquatic therapy here.
3) Remove Tripping Hazards
Navigating a home with objects or cords on the floor can be dangerous so it’s important to keep the floors and pathways clear and to fix potential hazards to avoid tripping.
When you walk through a room, do you have to walk around furniture? Ask someone to move the furniture so your path is clear.
Do you have throw rugs on the floor? Remove the rugs or use double-sided tape or a non-slip backing so the rugs won’t slip.
Are there papers, books, towels, shoes, magazines, boxes, blankets, or other objects on the floor? Pick up things that are on the floor. Always keep objects off the floor.
Do you have to walk over or around wires or cords (like lamp, telephone, or extension cords)? Coil or tape cords and wires next to the wall so you can’t trip over them. If needed, have an electrician put in another outlet.
Are there papers, shoes, books, or other objects on the stairs? Pick up things on the stairs. Always keep objects off stairs.
Are some steps broken or uneven? Fix loose or uneven steps.
Is the carpet on the steps loose or torn? Make sure the carpet is firmly attached to every step, or remove the carpet and attach non-slip rubber treads to the stairs.
Is the tub or shower floor slippery? Put a non-slip rubber mat or self-stick strips on the floor of the tub or shower.
Reaching for items on shelves and attempting to bring down heavy items from above can put you at risk of losing your balance and falling from a greater height. To avoid this, it’s crucial to either limit the need to get something down from a shelf or to make arrangements so you don’t need to at all.
Are the things you use often on high shelves? Move items in your cabinets. Keep things you use often on the lower shelves (about waist level).
Is your step stool sturdy? If you must use a step stool, get one with a bar to hold on to. Never use a chair as a step stool.
Tip from the CDC: Wear shoes both inside and outside the house to protect your feet, improve your balance, and prevent slipping - avoid going barefoot or wearing slippers.
Tip from Voyage LTC: Be sure to have an assigned pair of inside shoes and outside shoes so you don’t bring debris or germs into your home.
4) Don’t Forget About Outside
If you are a senior who still performs tasks like driving, running errands, or outside activities, it’s important to check your outside environment for tripping hazards as well. Wobbly steps, dark entrances, and debris like rocks and sticks are major risks for accidents as well as seasonal hazards like wet leaves, snow, and ice. Also, be sure to have a secure railing and set of steps along with a well-lit and clear entryway into your home to avoid tripping.
Tip from NCOA: Motion sensor lights are best for entryways since you don’t need to turn them on or off.
5) Have an Emergency Plan
Whether you live alone or with a significant other, it’s important to be prepared in case there is an emergency such as a fall, an injury (from falling, cooking, etc.), a house fire, or a sudden illness or hospitalization. Be sure to take precautionary measures such as checking your smoke detectors (ask a family member or friend for assistance if needed) and creating a fire escape plan.
It may be a good idea to have phones in different rooms of the house and to keep a list of emergency phone numbers in large print near each phone. You may also want to consider maintaining an emergency bag in case of sudden illness or hospitalization.
An emergency bag helps you prepare for an emergency and it can reduce the stress and confusion that often accompany a hospital visit, particularly if the visit is an unplanned trip to the emergency room.
An emergency bag typically consists of the following:
Health insurance cards
Lists of current medical conditions, medicines being taken, and allergies
Healthcare providers’ names and phone numbers
Copies of healthcare advance directives (documents that spell out a patient’s wishes for end-of-life care)
“Personal information sheet” stating the person’s preferred name and language; contact information for key family members and friends; need for glasses, dentures, or hearing aids; behaviors of concern; how the person communicated needs and expresses emotions; and living situation
Snacks and bottles of water
Incontinence briefs, if usually worn, moist wipes, and plastic bags
Comforting objects or music player with earphones
A change of clothing, toiletries, and personal medications for yourself
Pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin – a trip to the emergency room may take longer than you think, and stress can lead to a headache or other symptoms
A pad of paper and pen to write down information and directions given to you by hospital staff
A small amount of cash
A note on the outside of the emergency bag to remind you to take your cell phone and charger with you
Note: Adjust the contents of the bag to meet your unique needs. The list above is suggested for people with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers.
Other Helpful Recommendations From the CDC
Install a home security system for an extra measure of safety
Use a wearable medical alert system if necessary
Put a phone near the floor in case you fall and can’t get up or become injured
Have your doctor or pharmacist look at all the medicines you take, even over-the-counter medicines as some medicines can make you sleepy or dizzy
Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year and update your glasses
Falls are a serious concern for seniors and homes should provide safe environments to avoid accidents and injuries. By following these safety tips and using the CDC checklist, seniors can live independently in their own homes without the risk of injury. From household adjustments to creating emergency plans, many practical tips can be implemented easily to create a safer living environment. Don’t wait until an accident happens to make a change – be proactive and start making your home safer today.