According to AARP, nearly 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their own home as they age. However, issues with limited mobility, vision, hearing, balance and even cognitive impairments can raise safety concerns in the home environment. To help keep yourself or your loved one safe consider these home safety tips for seniors.
Home Safety in Your Physical Space
Falls are one of the top health risks for seniors. In fact, nearly a third of U.S. seniors fall each year and about half of all falls that require hospitalization take place at home according to the CDC. What can you do?
Make sure walking paths are free of clutter and that electric cords are near walls and away from walkways. Remove throw rugs and check to ensure all carpets and large area rugs are firmly attached to the floor. Stairs in particular should be free of papers, shoes, books or other objects as well, make sure the handrail is sturdy and that there is adequate lighting with light switches at the bottom and top of the staircase.
Also, consider the arrangement of your furniture. Is it out of the way when you walk or do you frequently stub toes or knees? And are sofas and chairs the right height to easily get in and out of them?
In the kitchen, get yourself a reach stick or sturdy step stool with a bar to hold on to if you frequently need to access items on high shelves. In the bedroom, have a light close to the bed and proper lighting along the path from your bed to the bathroom. And in the bathroom, get a non-slip rubber mat or self- stick strips on the floor of the tub or shower and install grab bars to assist you in getting in/out of the tub or up from the toilet.
Lastly, consider accessibility, do you have the appropriate mobility devices to maneuver around the home safely? And do you have ramps and/or are the doorways wide enough for these devices?
Personal Safety at Home
One thing that you can expect in life is that the unexpected will happen at some point. All households should be prepared for emergencies, but as you age and/or live alone it’s particularly critical.
Have emergency contact info readily available for the police, fire department or even neighbors. Also, make (AND PRACTICE) an emergency response plan should you need to evacuate for any reason.
Conduct a fire safety check in the home on a regular basis and test smoke alarms every six months. Also, make sure you have fire extinguishers in easily accessible places.
It’s also a good idea to have a generator in case of a power outage to keep oxygen and dialysis machines functioning.
Last, but certainly not least, a 24-hour emergency alert system is a must for seniors. This wearable call button will put you in touch with a dispatcher to contact the appropriate first responder and/or a friend or family member in the event you need emergency help for any reason. At a minimum, keep your cell phone with you at all times and/or have a telephone near your bed, in the kitchen or anywhere you spend much time.
The ability to drive is a key to independence for many seniors. Yet, weaker muscles, reduced flexibility and limited range of motion can restrict senior drivers’ ability to grip and turn the steering wheel, press the accelerator or brake, or reach to open doors and windows according to AAA.
Both AARP and AAA offer safe driving refresher courses for seniors. In addition to improving your safety, completion of these courses can result in auto insurance discounts. AAA also has clinics where trained technicians and occupational therapists can help you find the right vehicle fit and can go over smart features that are available in some cars today.
In addition, keep up with regular checkups for vision and hearing to proactively manage any issues that may affect your driving. And speak with your doctor or pharmacist about any potential medication side effects or interactions to be aware of when driving.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, adverse drug events account for approximately 280,000 hospitalizations annually. And with the complexities of managing multiple prescription medications each day, as many seniors do, it’s easy to see how mistakes can be made.
To reduce the likelihood for error:
- Always follow your doctor’s instructions and read the package insert information
- Take medications as long as prescribed, even if you feel better
- Get prescriptions refilled early to avoid running out of medications
- Keep track of medications and dosage times with written charts, pill containers that organize by day and time or even apps for your phone that allow you to set alarms
The Cost of Safety at Home
If this sounds like a lot to manage on your own, quite frankly it can be. The cost of safety upgrades is not insignificant either, with the installation of things like wheelchair ramps and bathroom handrails running in the thousands of dollars.
On the other hand, senior living communities are designed specifically for seniors with safety features such as emergency alert systems, grab bars, ramps, transportation, evacuation plans and generators as standard. They also offer many additional benefits that include social opportunities, amenities, daily support and onsite medical care.
Aging in place at home may be best for some, yet others, due to a variety of circumstances, may have more peace of mind in senior living. Bottom line, it’s important to consider all your options to ensure safety and wellbeing for yourself or your loved one.