Safety is a main concern for seniors who live at home. But there are easy, inexpensive ways to modify living spaces to accommodate older adults and allow them to enjoy their independence.
Professionals like Mary Ann Hollander, director of nursing services at Senior Services Unlimited, routinely inspect homes to assess what kinds of changes are needed to make things easier—and safer—for the homeowner. She says the main goal is preventing an accident. “Falling is typically the most common problem,” she notes. “So we make them aware of modifications that can help them maneuver safely at home.” If a walker has been prescribed, Hollander advises, seniors should use it. “Holding onto different furniture to get around is not the way to do it,” she says, adding that navigating in and around the house is easier if hallways and high-traffic areas are clear. “Seniors have a way of holding onto things and stacking them up in front of exits or in rooms—but all that clutter is really dangerous.”
Another common safety risk is unsecured rugs or runners in hallways or living rooms, says Home Helpers owner Julie Bracewell. “The resident could end up tripping over the rug, especially if he or she uses a walker to get around,” she says. “Either remove the rug or put adhesive underneath it to keep it from slipping.”
Bracewell also advises seniors to avoid wearing clothes that are too loose. “If someone is wearing clothing that’s oversized, like a robe, it’s pretty easy to trip over the tie with their walker,” she explains.
The kitchen is a big area of concern, adds Bracewell. “Many seniors can no longer lift their arms up to reach cabinets, so they use their kitchen counters to store things or to stack items like prescriptions and papers,” she says. “It’s important for them to remember to keep those items away from heating devices. Keep the stove area clear.”
In the bedroom, Hollander says it’s a good idea to have a bedside commode. “At night, they’re getting up in the dark and they aren’t fully awake,” she says. “It’s helpful not to have to walk all the way to the bathroom.” And in the bathroom, she says, important modifications include a raised toilet seat, bars in the shower and good lighting.
There are additional challenges for someone who is sick or recovering from an illness. Bracewell says too many elderly people with Alzheimer’s are left home alone when they shouldn’t be. “If you are living with a family member with Alzheimer’s, there are a few little tricks to help them refocus,” she says. “In many cases, putting a stop sign or a mirror by the door redirects the mind, keeping someone with Alzheimer’s from leaving the house.”
If someone is just returning home from the hospital, make sure everything they need is accessible to them, Bracewell says. “They shouldn’t they have to use the stairs. Set up a temporary bed downstairs,” she advises.
Whether they have medical issues or are in relatively good health, seniors who live at home should consider a home monitoring service or medical alert system. “If they fall, all they need to do is push a button,” Bracewell says, noting that Home Helpers and similar organizations offer information about installing and using such devices. “It’s important that seniors know what types of resources are available to them to make their lives easier.”