Evaluating a senior’s ability to safely age in place is a complex process. Research shows that approximately three-quarters of Americans age 50 and older want to continue living in their own homes for as long as possible. But, for this plan to work, a senior’s home must be suitable for aging in place despite the emergence of any new or worsening health issues and functional limitations.

Nanette Overly, vice president of sales and marketing for Epcon Communities based in Dublin, Ohio, points to the importance of creating a home environment that supports one’s lifestyle now and in the future. Implementing safety measures and universal design principles is one way of ensuring an older adult’s current home will remain safe, functional and comfortable as they age. Overly emphasizes that every area of an existing home can be adapted to help prevent falls, injuries and accidents.

To devise a customized solution for helping a loved one age in place, walk through their residence together and carefully assess each room. Jot down any current or potential hazards that should be addressed and use the following home safety checklist to identify modifications and improvements that will promote independent living.

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Making a Home Safer for Seniors: A Room-By-Room Assessment

General Home Safety Tips

  • Move furniture to create clear walking paths.
  • Ensure light switches are accessible by placing them no higher than 48 inches from the floor, and replace toggle switches with rocker switches.
  • Improve overall lighting in the home. Light dark pathways or countertop areas with easy-to-install rope lighting. Add task lights and night lights wherever needed.
  • Add grips to doorknobs or replace them with levered handles or pulls.
  • Mark any steps or changes in floor level with tape or paint in a high-contrast color.
  • Remove loose carpeting and unnecessary throw rugs/mats. Secure area rugs with double-sided rug tape, making sure to focus on corners and edges.
  • Remove all electric and cable cords that run across or near walkways. Place all wiring behind furniture or secure cords neatly against walls with clips, cable staples or cord covers.
  • Ensure all seating throughout the home is sturdy, ideally with supportive arms to make sitting and standing easier.
  • Remove clutter by donating or disposing of items that are no longer of use.
  • Make sure trash receptacles are easily accessible from inside the home and can be brought to the curb without difficulty.
  • The washing machine and dryer should be easy to access on the main level of the home. If laundry machines are located on an upper floor of a multi-level home, consider repurposing a closet or other area on the ground floor into a laundry room. Replace top-loading machines with front-loading appliances that are easier to use. If necessary, laundry can be outsourced to a laundry service or added to the tasks completed by a home care aide.
  • Ensure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are placed in all key areas of the home. Test them and change the batteries regularly.

Entryway Safety Tips

  • Clear a convenient path from the driveway to the entry of the home.
  • Inspect all walkways for cracks, loose bricks or stones, and uneven surfaces. Repair any flaws to provide a level walking surface free of trip hazards.
  • Remove or trim landscaping so that walking paths are wide enough for someone using a wheelchair or walker.
  • If there are entry steps, install handrails on both sides of the stairs. Ensure stair treads are non-slip and deep enough to accommodate the whole foot.
  • As mobility challenges increase, evaluate if there is room to install a ramp. Step-less entries make it easier and safer to gain access, whether the person is in a wheelchair or using a mobility aid like a walker or cane. Install threshold ramps wherever possible.
  • Evaluate the security of the front door. Are the locks sturdy and easy to operate? Is there a window panel or peephole in the proper location?
  • Add swing-clear hinges to doors or hire a handyman to widen existing doorways to accommodate mobility aids.

Read: Aging in Place: Making Your Home’s Main Entrance Accessible

Kitchen Safety Tips

  • Replace knobs on cabinets and drawers with levers or pulls.
  • Move frequently used items from high shelves and under-the-counter cabinets to more accessible locations that do not require reaching up or leaning down.
  • Consider the functionality of older appliances. Ideally, oven controls should be placed at the front of the range rather than toward the rear to prevent reaching over the stove burners. Knobs should be clearly labeled and easy to use. A thin layer of paraffin wax or petroleum jelly can be rubbed around the gasket of a refrigerator door that is difficult to open.
  • Replace small appliances, such as coffee makers and toaster ovens, with models that have an automatic shut-off feature.
  • Use colorful dishes, utensils and cookware that contrast with the color of countertops, tabletops and storage areas to help an elder with poor eyesight navigate the kitchen.
  • Thermometers and timers with flashing lights can be used to alert someone who is hard of hearing that dinner’s ready.
  • Use a “Lazy Susan” to increase access to out-of-reach items on the dining table, on shelves and in cabinets.

Bedroom Safety Tips

  • Adjust the height of the bed for easy transfers. A senior should be able to sit on the edge of the bed with their knees bent and their feet flat on the floor. Add height with risers or a taller bedframe if it’s too low. If it’s too high, consider removing the box spring or replacing it with a low-profile box spring.
  • Add bedrails or pull-up devices under the mattress to assist with sitting up when in bed.
  • Keep a working flashlight in the nightstand for emergencies.
  • If nighttime trips to the bathroom are common, consider setting up a bedside commode.

Bathroom Safety Tips

  • Install grab bars for additional support while toileting and while getting into and out of the shower/bath.
  • Abundant lighting for the overall space as well as tasks is essential. Special waterproof incandescent lights should be placed in the ceiling of the shower and over the tub for extra visibility. Consider installing motion-activated night lights along the path to the bathroom to make nighttime trips safer and more convenient.
  • Set the hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and clearly label hot and cold faucets. Consider installing anti-scald devices on faucets to prevent burns.
  • Showers should have a step-free entry. There are step-in tub models available that feature a door for easy entrance and exit. The shower/tub should be fitted with a seat, a hand-held showerhead, and a niche or shelf at a convenient height so bath products can be reached easily. A large, zero-entry shower with a bench will allow one to roll a wheelchair in and bathe.
  • Floors should be slip-resistant wood, vinyl or tile with a lot of grout for traction. Add non-skid decals to any slippery areas in the bathroom.
  • All cabinets and drawers should be fitted with levers or pulls rather than knobs.
  • Consider installing a comfort-height toilet, which is a few inches taller than standard models, or adding a toilet seat riser to an existing toilet. This extra height allows for easier toileting, especially if one must transfer to and from a wheelchair.

Monitor Changes in a Senior’s Abilities

Applying the universal tips above can make any senior’s home safer and more accessible. However, each person faces unique changes in their health and functional abilities over time. Regularly evaluating an aging loved one’s ability to perform activities of daily living is just as important as ongoing home assessments.

Read: The Importance of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Together, the results of these assessments should guide home modifications, care planning, and the addition of supportive services and products for aging in place. Being proactive about meeting a senior’s current and emerging needs will extend their independence, boost their confidence and give their family caregiver(s) invaluable peace of mind.