Home Safety for Seniors

Home safety is crucial if you are caring for your loved one in your home. It is especially important if your loved one is left alone for any amount of time. There are a number of rather simple precautions that can be taken to keep the elderly people safe. Don’t let simple preventable accidents take your quality of life.

Every year, thousands of people suffer falls on the stairs in their homes. Falling down the stairs can be particularly devastating for elderly people, resulting in broken bones and other injuries, a loss of confidence and an end to living independent lives.

By following some practical advice, and making simple changes to improve stair safety, the likelihood of an elderly person tripping, slipping or falling down the stairs can be reduced.

Good Lighting Improves Stair Safety

Good lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs will make them safer. Use brighter light bulbs (long-life bulbs will prevent the need to change them so often) and make sure there is a light switch at the top and bottom of the stairs. The stairs should never be used when it is dark or gloomy without switching the lights on first. Lighting which comes on automatically by detecting movement is another option.

Use light colored, plain, open lamp shades to let more light through, and paper or paint the walls on the stairwell with a light color to reflect more light.

Make Sure the Stairs are Easily Visible

Patterned carpets can make the edges of the steps difficult to see and create difficulty with visual depth perception. Plain, light colored carpets are better. Alternatively, mark the tread edges of patterned carpets with a heavy duty tape of contrasting color, and ensure it is well stuck down.

Bifocals can make stairs look distorted, and wearers of these types of glasses should learn how to adjust them accordingly. Reading glasses should not be worn when going up or down the stairs. If glasses for distance vision are worn during the day, they must also be worn when using the stairs in the night.

Avoid Tripping Over Things on the Stairs

Stair carpeting should not be loose or bunched up, frayed at the edges or worn. Replace the carpet if necessary and ensure it is fitted correctly. Rugs placed at the top and bottom of stairs must be stuck down securely or removed altogether. Do not put rugs on the stairs. Make sure uneven surfaces are leveled out and that all the steps are the same height.

Don’t leave things on the stairs that need to go up or down the stairs, such as washing or coats. Instead of leaving things on the stairwell to take up later, find another place to put them. Be particularly careful if pets are in the house in case they are lurking on the stairs. Fitting a cat or dog with a brightly colored collar will make it more visible. If a stair lift is fitted, make sure it is parked properly and not obstructing the stairs or landing when not in use.

Trailing clothing such as long skirts, flared trousers, and nightdresses may cause the wearer to trip up when using the stairs, so make sure clothes fit close to the body and are not too long. Full, enclosed slippers or shoes in good condition should be worn. To avoid slipping, do not walk up or down the stairs without footwear, or in footwear with slippery soles.

Cleaning stairs with a vacuum cleaner may require stepping over trailing pipes and wires. It may be preferable to use a lightweight cordless vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush or ask someone to help such as a family member, friend, neighbor or carer.

Keeping Balance on the Stairs

Fit handrails securely on both sides of the stairs and make sure they extend fully from top to bottom. Handrails should fit the grip of the hand fully and be fixed at a comfortable height. An occupational therapist can help assess which types of handrails are best suited to an elderly person’s needs.

Extra care should be taken when carrying things up or down the stairs, especially if they are big, heavy or bulky. Make two trips if necessary. An elderly person should not carry an object that prevents the use of the handrail or proper view of the steps. If carrying a stick-up and down the stairs is awkward, leave one at the top and one at the bottom of the stairs.

Don’t hurry up and down the stairs to answer the door or telephone. Install an intercom and a telephone line upstairs if necessary.

Good lighting, easily visible steps and taking measures to stay balanced and avoid tripping over things are important for stair safety. Elderly people should not be afraid to keep using the stairs as long as it is safe and they take their time; the exercise from walking up and down them is good for maintaining muscle strength, coordination, and balance.

Bed and Bath Safety for Elderly People

The adult son or daughter who takes on the role of a caregiver for an aging parent or other senior family member assumes a tremendous responsibility. If the older person suffers from an illness or is recuperating from an injury, the caregiver’s workload weighs even heavier. The elder’s safety at home is a priority for any caregiver. Many home accidents occur in the bathroom. There are dangerous obstacles in the bedroom that can cause an elderly person harm, as well.

Grab Bars are Essential Bathroom Safety Equipment

The bathroom can be a dangerous place for anyone of any age who isn’t careful. By thinking through the elderly person’s routine, and making a few easy modifications, a caregiver can prevent many of the most common bathroom injuries. Grab bars are essential safety equipment in a modified bathroom. Grab bars can be purchased for the home from a local home repair center or hardware store.

Install grab bars by the toilet and in the shower/bath area for added safety and security. The grab bars must be installed correctly to prevent serious injury.

Families don’t have to wait for an elderly person to move into the home to take advantage of the safety and security bathroom grab bars provide.

Safety Tips for an Elderly Person’s Bathroom

Frail elderly persons are at risk for falls and injuries in the bathroom. A home caregiver can make the surroundings relatively safe with a few inexpensive modifications. Installing grab bars is a step in the right direction, but there are more safety precautions a caregiver can take to make the bathroom safer and the caregiver’s job easier:

  • Make certain the bathroom rug is slip-resistant (as well as any throw rugs in the rest of the house).
  • Avoid storing medications in the bathroom medicine cabinet; lock them in a safe place. Elders may get confused and take old expired drugs or medicine that belongs to another family member.
  • Be sure to use a bathmat to avoid stepping into a slippery tub.
  • Keep space heaters and other electrical appliances out of the bathroom.
  • Avoid keeping sharp objects like razors or scissors in the bathroom.
  • Prevent scalds from water that’s too hot by setting the hot water heater to 120 ºF or lower.

Oven and Stove

The oven and stove are a major cause of accidental fires, especially if you are not there. If you cannot unhook it, please remove the dials or use safety knob covers. By removing the dials, you are making it more difficult for your loved one to turn the oven and stove on. If your loved one prepares their own meals, you can have them use the microwave and preset the dial for them.

When finished with a meal or when leaving the kitchen, develop a routine of walking around the kitchen after each meal, doing a safety check for turning burners and appliances off. Clean up any spills on the floor immediately to avoid falls. Use timers and buzzers loud enough to hear from another room.

Fire Alarms

Are your fire and CO alarms working? I suggest checking them at least once a month to make sure they are working. Fire alarms are very helpful especially if you are in the house with your loved one. Depending on the fire alarm, it may be able to detect burnt toast.

Locks on the Doors

Locks on front and back doors will be very helpful if your loved one wanders throughout the night. Wandering is common in persons with dementia. If you are in a house, you may want to consider putting in extra locks that you need a key to open. Place these locks at the top of the door- out of reach for your loved one. If you are in an apartment, please speak to your landlord before adding additional locks. Most buildings will allow you to add extra safety precautions.

Balconies and Sliding Doors

If you live in an apartment/condo or if you live in a more than one story house, this is extremely important. There are safety devices that you can attach to your sliding doors. You want to eliminate the possible cause of an accident in the middle of the night if your loved one wanders.

Carpet, Hardwood Floors, and Tile Floors

Carpet is wonderful because it helps grip. Unfortunately, some carpets have a lot of frills. This may cause your loved one to trip and perhaps hurt themselves. If this sounds familiar, you may want to include mats where your loved ones usually walk. If you have hardwood or tile floors, be very careful. Add mats and rugs where needed. These floors can be exceptionally slippery after cleaning and waxing. You can also purchase grip slippers or socks for your loved one.

Cleaning Chemicals, Medications, Matches

Please keep these out of reach. Your loved one may mistake a bottle of ammonia for a drink. This can be fatal. Do not leave medications hanging around. Some dementia persons have a habit of putting things in their mouths. Matches are a known fire hazard. Your loved one may not be aware of this. Instead, they may just be fiddling around with it and a fire occurs. This also goes for lighters. If you use lighters, try to purchase the child-proof kind just in case it is left out in the open.

Corners in the Home

Too many corners may be confusing for your loved one. Your loved one may become disoriented and lost. If this occurs, give your loved one a tour of the home.

Home Alarms

Home Alarms makes us feel secure when alone. If you leave your loved one alone and turn the alarm on, please make sure that your loved one cannot open the door. The noise from the alarm is likely to scare your loved one very much. And, if the alarm goes off and the agency calls for the password, your loved may not be able to answer the phone or answers the phone but cannot give the correct password. Policemen are friendly but very scary to a person who has no idea what is happening.

Nightlights

Nightlights should be used in the evening to illuminate surroundings. You can place these in the kitchen, bathroom, by stairs, and hallway.

Breakables

Anything that has value to you, you may want to move. Your loved one may bump into a table and knock things off- accidentally. He may also hurt himself on the broken objects.

Car Keys

If you are caring for a loved one who still wants to drive, it is a good idea to hide your keys. Your loved one may just want to take a drive one day. Hide them in a secure place.

Older Adults Practicing Habits Which Keep Them Safe

  • Use your deadbolts and locks – they won’t help if they are not used faithfully.
  • Have key ready when entering the house.
  • Leave the spare key with a trusted neighbor you know quite well.
  • Don’t be predictable; change things up so someone watching stays confused.
  • Befriend your neighbors; they will look out for you.
  • Never share personal information on the phone or in public: schedules, last name of self or friends, or say you won’t be home at a certain time or day (that invites burglars).
  • If you have an electric garage door, do not unlock the car door until the garage is completely shut.
  • As you drive or walk up to the house, glance around before you turn into the driveway to assure no one is nearby. If you see something amiss go on by and seek help.
  • Carry a cell phone when in or out of the house. Have important numbers in phone’s memory for quick dialing.

Seniors Staying Safe Going Out and About

  • Be sure someone knows where you are going and approximately when you should return, especially at night.
  • Ask security or trusted friend to walk you to your car (which you parked in a well-lit area).
  • Avoid ATM’s, especially if in a closed-in area, someone is close around, or at night. (If a car or person is nearby, drive around the block till they’re gone and try again.)
  • If walking, use a buddy system by walking with another person or persons.
  • Leave valuables and anything that might look like a purse or valuable in the trunk to avoid theft.
  • Use a fanny pack or similar device or front pockets only to avoid valuables dangling in purses or in a back pocket.
  • Limit credit cards to one if possible, and have the number to call if stolen clearly findable.
  • Avoid uneven surfaces when possible. Use walking stick or cane as extra caution when you must walk on such places.
  • Carry at least the minimal medical and emergency information with you at all times.

Safety is a top priority for an elderly person who has come to live or spend time in the home. The key to elder care safety is to think through possible dangerous situations. Decide what hazards need to be addressed and corrected.

Modifications may cost only a few dollars. An elder who takes a serious fall could cost thousands of dollars in surgical procedures and rehabilitation therapy. Experienced caregivers prefer prevention – a much better deal than enduring months of recovery at home caring for the elderly loved one.