Protecting Aging in Place Seniors
Most seniors want to live out their lives “aging in place,” which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as, "the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level." However, such a living arrangement presents a challenge – how to protect a senior citizen who lives at home from injury that may happen just participating in ordinary everyday activities. This is especially true for a person living alone and is exacerbated under current isolation requirements in many regions due to the COVID-19 virus. What can be done to make the aging at home experience a safe one for an elder?
It is not surprising that, as we get older, we want to age in place – to stay in the home we know and love. To do so requires that we take stock of our home environment and make necessary changes to be able to continue to live safely and in comfort.
For a senior who has significant impairments such changes might involve major modifications such as adding a staircase chair lift, making a bathroom fully handicapped accessible and allowing pathways for a motorized wheelchair. However, there are several changes/additions that you can do for a senior (yourself or a loved one) with adequate mobility that enhance the resident’s aging in place and don’t cost a lot.
One of the first steps is to ensure good lighting throughout the house. Built-in lights are easy to update to provide suitable lighting for someone who might have deteriorating vision; LED bulbs are a good choice since they are long lasting and power-efficient. Just as important is providing adequate lighting in dimmer areas of the home, such as stairways or hallways. Amazon has LED nightlights for around $2 a light that consume very low power (under ½ watt), have photo sensors that turn off the light when the ambient light level is high enough and have plastic diffuser covers that make the light seem brighter than it is.
Any stairway in a house should have a handrail
These include short ones that are only a step or two in length, such as one that may transition to and from a hallway to a sunken living room. If possible, install a handrail on each side of the stairway.
Any area rugs should be tightened or affixed to a surface...
So that they do not slide or bunch up, which could present a significant tripping hazard. You can purchase non-slip mats that going under rugs and can be cut to size.
Think about replacing traditional doorknobs on interior doors with lever-style doorknobs.
These are easier to use for people who have hand mobility problems, such as arthritis. Do the same with faucets.
Never use a lock on a home exit door that locks and unlocks with a key on the inside...
Even if the key is kept in the lock.
If not already present, install smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in appropriate places throughout the home.
The alarms on these devices should be loud enough to be heard by a senior with a hearing impairment. Modern battery-operated alarms have long battery lives (5-10 years), alert you when a battery needs replacing and cost as little as $10 - $15. You should definitely install one in every bedroom and in the kitchen.
Consider having one or more voice assistants such as the Amazon Echo Dot...
That works with an application such as GoFind’s VoiceR and allows a senior to request help if it is needed. VoiceR is a free application for a smartphone that allows caregivers on the senior’s list to be informed if help is required. (voicer.life)
Spend some time reducing furniture clutter throughout the home
Seniors, especially those with mobility issues, have an easier time negotiating open spaces where there is less chance of bumping into tables or chairs and stumbling.
Consider getting a medical alert system...
That provides 24/7 contact with caregivers and emergency services if the senior has an accident, falls, or experiences a health emergency. A medical alert system provides peace of mind to seniors and their caregivers while helping them to stay independent in their homes.
The bathroom is where most seniors fall and the kitchen is a room that has many hazards for elders. Each presents opportunities for making them safer for seniors.
If you use a step stool to reach objects on higher shelves, make sure it has a bar on top to hold on to
A step stool with wide steps is also a good idea. Keep items you use often on the lower shelves in the kitchen – waist high is a good location.
Never leave a flammable object, such as a towel or cookbook, on a cooktop burner when it is off. It is too easy to accidentally turn the burner on without checking if there is something on it that could catch fire.
Have a non-skid mat or rug in front of the sink
The mat can soak up spills, thus preventing water from pooling on the floor and creating a fall hazard.
Keep a fire extinguisher in a handy, easy to get to location...
for use on small cooktop or oven fires. Make sure the senior knows how to operate the extinguisher.
If you have a CO (carbon monoxide) detector near the kitchen, make sure it is at least 15-20 feet from a gas oven or cooktop to prevent false alarms
Of course, the kitchen should also have a smoke detector.
While not part of home modifications, discuss “safe” clothes to wear while cooking with the senior. This means not wearing robes or other clothing with long, loose sleeves since they can catch fire against a cooktop, oven flame or hot electric coil. If long sleeves are worn, they should be rolled up.
Put a non-slip rubber mat or self-stick non-slip strips on the floor of each
Shower and bath tub surfaces can be very slippery. If the senior has trouble standing in the shower, place a shower chair inside and make sure the chair is slip resistant with rubber caps on the legs.
Make sure essential shower items (soap, shampoo, etc.) are in easy reach
If the shower has a window, place them on the window sill. A rack that hangs from the shower head is also a good place to put these items.
Install grab bars next to the tub, inside the shower and next to the toilet
If not needed at this time, they might be down the road.
Get a raised toilet seat
Some seniors have difficulty lowering and raising themselves from the toilet. Get a raised toilet seat to make it easier for them – some come with grab bars attached.
Have a night light in the bathroom
This is particularly important if the senior has difficulty seeing to turn on the bathroom light.
Consider in which direction the bathroom door swings
A door that swings outward is preferable since it makes it easier for emergency personnel to reach someone who may have fallen against the door.
There are several on-line resources available to help you “seniorize” a home. That is, make it safe and comfortable for an elder. Check out the links below for more information and additional ideas: