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"Seniorizing" Your Home: Making it Safe for Elderly

by John Whitmarsh and
Laura Coverson

Although retirement communities have their benefits, many seniors prefer staying in their own homes for as long as possible. According to a 2010 AARP study, nearly three quarters of the research participants said they wish to remain in the current homes as long as they can.

Staying at home is not just more comfortable for some seniors, but it may also make economic sense. The average annual fee for an assisted-living facility, which provides aid with daily living for seniors can cost about $34,000 per year; and as much as $70,000 a year in a metropolitan area, such as New York.

However, as an individual becomes more fragile, living at home becomes difficult, even risky. Health problems and side effects from medications can increase chances of injury in the home when an elderly person is already having a harder time getting around. The risk of falling increases. The leading cause of death among adults 65 and older is falling, which results in broken hip bones. [http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html]

There are some simple ways to age in place, in the comfort of your home. Below is a guide containing some tips from WebMD [http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/making-your-home-fall-proof] describing easy ways to "seniorize" a home to make it safer.

1. Safety First

  • Make sure there are clear fire-escape routes.
  • Smoke alarms on every floor and outside every bedroom are absolutely necessary. Check the batteries in the alarms regularly.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector that sounds an alarm.
  • Place a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
  • Consider using monitors and intercoms.
  • Keep home well lit--especially areas like stairways, porches, and outside walkways.
  • Place protective screens on fireplaces.
  • Exposed hot-water pipes need to be covered.
  • Add extra light switches or remote switches (such as those that go on or off with the clap of hands).
  • Work out an emergency escape plan in case of fire, earthquake, or any other emergency.

2. Removing Hazards Around The Home

A senior who may experience problems with balance, walking or have poor eyesight needs to make sure to examine their homes to identify potential hazards. Look to remove or repair items that may cause tripping, such as:

  • Remove raised doorway thresholds.
  • Remove throw rugs and clutter.
  • Repair loose carpet or raised areas of flooring.
  • Move furniture and electrical cords out of walking pathways.
  • Use nonskid floor wax.
  • Wipe up spills immediately.
  • If you use a walker or cane, put rubber tips on it.
  • If you use crutches, clean the bottoms of them regularly with an abrasive pad, such as steel wool.
  • Use nightlights in hallways and bathrooms.
  • Add sturdy handrails to stairways.
  • If you live in an area that gets snow or ice in winter, have a relative or friend sprinkle salt or sand on steps or sidewalks as they become slippery.

3. Making Bathrooms Safer

Accidents in the bathroom, such as slipping, are common. There are ways to prevent them. Here are some things you can do:

  • Install grab handles in bathrooms.
  • Place nonskid mats inside and outside your shower or tub and near the toilet and sinks.
  • Use shower chairs and bath benches.
  • Get into a tub or shower by putting the weaker leg in first.
  • Get out of a tub or shower with your strong side first.
  • Use a long-handled brush or mittens with straps to help with bathing.

4. Making Daily Activities Simpler

Simple changes in a home can help an older adult conserve more energy. Here are some things you can do to make daily activities simpler:

  • Store household items on lower shelves so that you can easily reach them.
  • Use a reaching device that you can buy at a medical supply store so you do not need to climb for an item.
  • If you have trouble seeing, purchase a phone with larger numbers from a medical supply store.
  • If you have to climb for something, use a step stool with handrails.
  • Do not try to carry too many things at the same time.
  • Have a place near your door where you can place packages and groceries while you close the door and get ready to put items away.
  • Wear low-heeled, comfortable shoes that fit well and give your feet good support.
  • Use footwear with nonskid soles and check the heels and soles of your shoes for wear.
  • Repair or replace worn heels or soles.
  • Do not wear socks without shoes on smooth floors.

Many changes are easy to make and inexpensive. Changes can be simple, such as removing rugs. More complicated home modifications may require help of a professional, but there are government and non-profit groups available to help seniors. Some of these services, moreover, may be free of charge or low cost.

Check out the links below to the Centers for Disease Control and the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence on how to help the seniors in your home stay on their feet.

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Funders
MetLife Foundation The Lippey Family Trust Gladyce L. Foster
California Community Foundation