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, according to the AARP. 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.
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. Nanette Pfister, vice president of sales 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. Pfister emphasizes that every area of an existing home can be adapted to help prevent falls, injuries, and accidents.
In addition to home modifications that aim to keep seniors safe, home care services can help in several important ways — watching for environmental hazards, assisting with daily activities, providing companionship, and more. Read on to learn what you can do to ensure your elderly loved one’s safety at home and how in-home caregivers can help.
Home safety for seniors: Modifications and recommendations
To devise a customized solution for helping a loved one age in place, walk through their residence and carefully assess each room together. Jot down any current or potential hazards that should be addressed, and consider the following suggestions for modifications and improvements that will promote independent living. If you don’t feel comfortable identifying home safety issues, a home care provider can organize a professional assessment for you.
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 contrasting 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 any 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 that seating throughout the home is sturdy, ideally with supportive arms to make sitting and standing easier. Consider an electric lift chair as a cozy and helpful addition to the home.
- Remove clutter by donating or disposing of items that are no longer needed.
- Make sure trash receptacles are easily accessible from inside the home and can be brought to the curb without difficulty. In-home caregivers can also take out the trash for seniors, which is especially helpful in icy conditions or during winter months.
- Consider repurposing a closet or other area on the ground floor into a laundry room if laundry machines are located on an upper floor or basement of a multi-level home. 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.
Each room and space in your loved one’s home serves a unique purpose and may have specific challenges to address. The following suggestions are room-by-room modifications that family caregivers can make that will help enhance home safety for seniors.
Entryway safety tips
Make sure foyers and home entryways are easily accessible by reviewing these suggestions.
- 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.
- Consider installing a doorbell with a camera or a mailbox alert so seniors know when someone is at their home.
- Remove or trim landscaping so that walking paths are wide enough for someone using a wheelchair or walker.
- Install handrails on both sides of any entry stairs. Ensure stair treads are nonslip and deep enough to accommodate the whole foot.
- Evaluate if there is room to install a ramp. Stepless 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 contractor to widen existing doorways to accommodate mobility aids.
Kitchen safety tips
The following tips can help ensure kitchens are safe spaces for seniors.
- Replace knobs on cabinets and drawers with levers or pulls.
- Keep a long-handled grabber in the kitchen to reach objects that may be out of reach. This can reduce a senior’s temptation to use a step stool or another unstable device.
- 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.
- Use thermometers and timers with flashing lights 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
A senior’s bedroom should be a welcoming space where they feel comfortable. These recommendations can help keep their room cozy and secure.
- 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 or replacing the box spring with a low-profile box spring or purchasing a lower bedframe.
- Add pull-up devices under the mattress to assist with sitting up when in bed.
- Keep a working flashlight in the nightstand for emergencies.
- Consider setting up a bedside commode if nighttime trips to the bathroom are common.
Bathroom safety tips
Bathrooms can be challenging spaces for seniors. They often feature slippery flooring materials that become even more dangerous when wet from sink or shower spray. Consider the following safety modifications.
- Install grab bars for additional support while toileting and while getting into and out of the shower/bath.
- Consider installing motion-activated night lights along the path to the bathroom to make nighttime trips safer and more convenient. 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.
- Set the 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.
- Ensure showers have a step-free entry. Step-in tub models 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.
- Add non-skid decals to any slippery areas in the bathroom. If possible, floors should be slip-resistant wood, vinyl, or tile with a lot of grout for traction.
- Fit all cabinets and drawers 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 is especially important following joint replacements and may help during arthritis flare-ups. The extra height allows for easier toileting, especially if one must transfer to and from a wheelchair.
Making simple home modifications is an easy way that family caregivers can support loved ones aging in place. Applying the tips above can make any senior’s home safer and more accessible. However, you may begin to notice that your parent could benefit from additional help around the house.
Expert guidance to keep your loved one safe: Home care services and senior resources
Adding supportive care is another good option to help keep your parent secure in their space. Safe home care services range from assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) to transportation. In-home care can help seniors age safely in place and delay or avoid the transition to a senior living community.
Home care aides can help with the following:
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- Assessing hazards around the house and making suggestions for reducing fall risks throughout the home
- Keeping the home clean and tidy
- Monitoring your loved one’s medical status to make sure they’re healthy enough to continue safely living on their own
- Reminding seniors to take medications as prescribed and watching for potential side effects
- Offering much-needed socialization and camaraderie for older adults
Another resource for helping improve home safety for seniors is the local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). AAA offices coordinate local services that support elderly adults aging in place. Their services differ depending on the location of the agency, but many help facilitate safety inspections, meal deliveries, social and recreational activities, home repairs, and more. Explore their services and identify an Area Agency on Aging near your loved one.
AgingCare can help connect you with local home care services to help your parent age in place gracefully. Being proactive about meeting a senior’s current and emerging needs will extend their independence, boost their confidence, and give family caregivers invaluable peace of mind.
Reviewed by caregiving expert Carol Bradley Bursack.
Where We Live, Where We Age: Trends in Home and Community Preferences (https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/community/info-2021/2021-home-community-preferences.html)
Eldercare Locator: Area Agencies on Aging (https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/About/Aging_Network/AAA.aspx)