For adult children or family members who care for aging parents or loved ones, the question of how to keep them safe at home is an important one. Many seniors are choosing to age in place in their homes. In fact, according to the AARP, 49 percent of adults expect to live at home. As people age, they experience changes in vision, hearing, mobility, strength, dexterity and cognition. Physical changes to the home, large or small, can help seniors maintain their independence. But what improvements should caregivers consider and where should they start?
Is the house easy for your loved ones and others to find? Consider installing high-visibility house numbers and bright motion detector lighting at the entranceway and in the driveway. Can your loved ones get inside safely? You may want to think about installing a covered entrance to protect seniors from inclement weather while entering and exiting the home. Install a shelf near the entrance for packages while opening and closing the door. Handrails on both sides of the steps are one of the most important ways to prevent slips and falls for an older loved one. Small items like a sound-activated mini light that snaps onto a key can illuminate a dark keyhole for a loved one with deteriorating vision.
Unfortunately, seniors are especially vulnerable to intruders so also consider how to prevent break-ins. To combat this, “case” the house, ask where the easiest points of entry are and make them more secure. Have strong doors and doorframes; install high-quality, deadbolt locks. If your loved ones are away, ask the post office to hold the mail and use automatic programmable electrical switches to rotate the lights and TV for security. You may also want to consider purchasing a good security system for added safety.
Floor coverings, lighting and even paint colors can impact home safety for aging seniors. Keep your loved ones’ home free of scatter rugs to avoid slips, trips and falls. If you must have them, secure the rugs with double-sided carpet tape or self-stick carpet mesh. Eliminate thresholds between different flooring materials and between rooms. Provide sufficient, even lighting throughout the house for added visibility. Increase the amount of natural light—open the blinds and curtains, raise shades and move large items away from the windows. Choose light-colored paint and wall coverings to reflect available light. Assess where you have dark or shadowy areas. You can install a cordless, battery-operated light or cordless floor lamp if there are not electrical outlets available. Make sure that paths through rooms are free of obstructions and well-lit to prevent the possibility of falls.
When dexterity becomes an issue, round doorknobs can be difficult to grip. An inexpensive alternative is lever adapters that can be clamped around round door knobs, converting them into easy to grasp lever handles. On stairways, you should replace or remove any worn or torn carpeting and keep clear of clutter to avoid accidents. Better yet, keep stairs uncarpeted and mark the edges with textured tape or rubber treads to reduce slipping. You may consider marking the leading edge of the steps with a contrasting color tape to provide visual orientation and installing handrails on both sides of the stairs.
In this frequently used room, avoid opportunities for burns and fires, and make the kitchen easy to maneuver and comfortable to work in. You may consider installing an anti-scald mechanism on the pipe under the kitchen sink or purchasing a range with staggered burners on the top and controls on the front so a loved one can avoid reaching over hot burners and pots and pans. Heat resistant, firm comfortable grips that slip over the handles of saucepans and skillets to prevent burns on the hand are available in home and kitchen specialty retailers. Also, ensure that your loved one has access to a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Small appliances such as coffee makers with automatic shut-off features are also good methods of fire prevention.
Ample lighting over the stove, counters, sink and other areas where food preparation takes place is key and a side-by-side refrigerator freezer will reduce reaching and bending. You may want to tape the edge of the countertop to contrast with the color of the floor beneath to enable the counter’s edge to be easily seen. Move all frequently used dishes and glasses to a shelf within easy reach. Finally, easily removable recycling and trash containers can help to prevent falls.
Burns from hot water and slips and falls are the most common accidents to avoid. Set the hot water heater at a safe temperature (110 to 120 degrees) and install anti-scald safety valves on shower heads and faucets for extra protection against hot water scalding. You may also consider adding well-secured grab bars in the shower or tub area and non-slip vinyl mats on the bathtub floor. People who are unsteady on their feet can bathe or shower more safely by sitting on a portable shower bench with a back and rubber feet. Consider obtaining a hand-held shower hose with a wall-mounted holder at a convenient height. Countertops with rounded rather than sharp corners are available and can reduce the potential for fall related injuries.
A light or flashlight and telephone should be positioned within easy reach of the bed. Emergency numbers should be kept next to the phone in the bedroom and in the kitchen. Consider outfitting the closet with easy-to-reach, dual-height hanging clothes bars and shelves. Avoid bi-fold or accordion closet doors which can be difficult to open and close. It is imperative that there is a smoke detector installed near the bedroom and that the batteries are replaced at least once a year. If your loved ones have a two-story home and the bedroom is on the second floor, be sure there’s a smoke detector on the first floor as well.
Furniture should be arranged in a way that allows movement throughout the room without interruption, and clutter should be avoided to prevent falls. To facilitate people with hearing loss, place chairs three- to six-feet apart and facing each other.
Consider a portable security intercom that allows you to identify visitors from anywhere inside the house. For added peace of mind, a good investment is a personal emergency response system connected to the phone with a portable button that’s worn or can be affixed to the wall at bedside or in the kitchen.
To learn more about Holy Redeemer Support at Home, call 215-698-3719 for FREE phone consultation.