Tips to help you make your home safer as you get older

January 14, 2020 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn, MD
home safer

A report from researchers at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University projects that by 2035, one in three households in the U.S. will be headed by someone who is 65 or older and many of these people plan to age in place, staying in their homes as they get older. While there are many benefits to aging in place, from remaining connected to your community and maintaining a sense of independence to lower costs compared to many independent and assisted living communities, the report found that most homes are not designed and outfitted for older people to safely live in. In light of this trend, it’s important to make sure your home safely meets your changing needs. Whether it’s your own home or the home of your older parents or relatives, there are several steps you should take to make the home safer.

  • Get a home safety assessment: The first step towards making your home safer is to find out what potential hazards there are. If you want the help of an outside advisor, you can look for local agencies that perform home safety assessments.
  • Reduce the risk of falls: One of the biggest risks older people face both in and out of the home is falls. According to statistics gathered by the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for older people in the U.S. These accidents lead to more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments each year. Even falls that don’t cause a serious injury can have a significant impact, as people get fearful and limit their activities and social interactions, increasing the risk for depression. To reduce the risk of falls and make your home safer, make sure all walking routes, including stairs, are clear of clutter like electric cords, furniture, and unsecured rugs and doormats. Ensure there’s adequate lighting throughout the home so people can spot potential tripping hazards easily. Make sure there are handrails on all stairs and that they’re secure. Add non-slip strips to the shower and tub floor and consider adding grab bars in the shower and by the toilet.
  • Lower the risk of fire: Avoid the use of space heaters, or, if they must be used, make sure they are always at least three feet away from curtains, bedding, and furniture and aren’t left on overnight, when you leave the room, or when there’s no one home. Make sure the home is equipped with smoke detectors and test them and change the batteries at least twice a year. You may also want to have a carbon monoxide detector in the home, especially if you use a wood stove for heating.
  • Don’t set the hot water heater too high: To prevent hot water scalds in the bathroom and kitchen, set the hot water heater at 120 degrees or lower.
  • Make the kitchen more accessible: Keep often used items, including food, within reach so that you don’t need to climb on a step stool and risk falling or bend too often.
  • Ensure first responders can find the home easily in an emergency: Put large numbers that are easily visible from the street on the front of the home and spray paint the address on the curb in front of the home if possible. It’s also wise to keep important emergency information posted by the phone and on the front of the refrigerator. That information should include names and phone numbers of family and physicians, information about any serious allergies or health issues, and information about your healthcare wishes, such as do not resuscitate orders and advance directives.