How to Safety-Proof Your Home For Aging Adults: 15 Tips

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

The staircase in your beloved home has now caused you to be out of breath, even though you once skipped a step at a time. As people age, it is important to consider safety-proofing a home to help minimize the potential for accidents.

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Considerations for safety-proofing a home include aging adults living with you in your home or you as an aging adult living alone. Survey after survey has suggested that when asked, older adults state they would prefer to live in their homes rather than move to assisted living. However, assisted living communities have built-in safety features such as single level floor plans, emergency response systems (ERS), handrails, and an emergency evacuation plan.

Making a house safety-proof can depend on cost, and others will have to do with the design of the home and constraints on remodeling. But as aging adults continue to age in place, safety increasingly becomes a top priority.

Why Should Aging Adults Safety-Proof Their Homes?

Simply put, aging adults should safety-proof their homes to prevent accidents.

Most people wait until there is an accident or physical decline related to a medical condition before thinking about safety features. Starting earlier gives you time to make wise decisions and review accessibility additions for ease of use and reliability before you need it. Safety proofing a home can help with a variety of age-related situations.

Fall prevention

The statistics related to falls are staggering. The CDC reports that if the current trend continues, there will be seven deaths every hour related to a fall by 2030. And it isn’t just deaths that are a concern with falls- it is a permanent disability that can result from a fall.

It is not unusual for an aging adult to fall, break a hip, have surgery and never recover sufficiently to return home safely without some caregiver support and home safety features. Despite your best efforts at fall prevention, your loved one may still fall, but you have made it less likely.

Crime prevention

Older adults are vulnerable to growing elder exploitation due to scams, con artists, and criminals that take advantage of older adults. Home safety involves preventing or discouraging criminal activity.

Fire prevention

Fires are a significant concern for older adults with dementia who may leave the stove on. Other problems involve the age of the home, electrical wiring conditions, and a lack of fire and carbon monoxide detectors.

Medication mismanagement

You may not think of medication mismanagement as a safety feature, but it is. Medication errors caused by taking multiple medications (known as polypharmacy), cognitive impairment, and confusion about dosing can lead to hospitalization and other adverse events. Between 75 and 96 percent of older adults admit they make mistakes with their medication.

Tips for Safety-Proofing Your Home for Aging Adults

There are so many things you can do to safety-proof a home for an aging adult that it can be overwhelming deciding where to start. These tips don’t necessarily have to go in order since you may have already accomplished some of these tasks. The important part is to get started now, as part of your caring for aging parents checklist.

1. Hire a home inspector

You can’t possibly know everything that is wrong with an aging adult’s home. A good home inspector can be invaluable in providing a comprehensive safety assessment and report on the home. Every real estate agent knows of home inspectors, so talk with a couple to get their recommendations on one that is thorough. You might be surprised at what they uncover. Once you know the extent of repairs, start the process of making the home safe.

2. Fall prevention strategies

Fall prevention strategies can be small or extensive. The first step to evaluating what is necessary is to assess your loved one’s condition. Are they likely to continue to decline? Is cognitive impairment a concern? What are the costs involved in making structural changes if necessary?

Start with decluttering

Clutter is a risk factor for falls. Electrical cords, magazines on the floor, throw rugs, boxes, shoes, and anything else that is a trip hazard should be removed. You may encounter significant resistance to this idea, so be patient but persistent in your efforts. 

Ask for a physical exam

Poor eyesight, impaired hearing, improper footwear, osteoporosis, and medication side effects can all contribute to falls. Ask your loved one’s primary care physician for a complete exam to identify any potential problems that need addressing.

Improve the lighting

Proper lighting, especially from the bedroom to the bathroom, can make a big difference in preventing falls. Look throughout the home for places to improve lighting. You may want to consider long-life bulbs reducing the likelihood of a bulb burning out without your knowledge. 

3. Deal with the bathroom

Bathrooms are hazardous due to two main areas- the shower and the toilet. If your loved one has a step-in shower, you may want to seriously consider installing a walk-in shower. There will be an expense to such an addition, but stepping in and out of the tub—particularly after an illness or injury—is very dangerous. When installing a walk-in shower, don’t forget to include a removable shower head and shower chair. 

Toilets can be problematic because they are too low, and it is difficult to get on and off the commode. There are several solutions to this problem, however. Consider installing toilet risers, toilet rails, and toilet transfer poles. Don’t forget to install grab bars in the shower and next to the toilet.

4. Stairs

Homes that are multilevel with several flights of stairs can present challenges. Glide chairs are the most obvious answer to this problem if the design of the home can accommodate this feature. If the laundry room is in the basement, consider installing a stackable washer and dryer on the main level. 

5. Medication management

Medication management systems are getting more sophisticated every day. Some systems dispense multiple medications at various times of day and others have reminders for those older adults who can take their medications once alerted. Review all of the options to see what one is best for your loved one. Online and local pharmacies offer bubble pack medications sent directly to the home, and someone just needs to set them up in a med box.

6. Home security systems

There are a dizzying array of home security systems. Overall, home security can alert the homeowner to a break-in, allow for remote monitoring through the use of cameras, detect carbon monoxide, and more. If your loved one lives alone, you can monitor their safety from your smartphone. Additionally, if a suspicious person comes to the door you have cameras to record any activity. 

7. Eliminate the landline

Landlines can be vulnerable to scam calls. So can cell phones, but cell phones have advantages over landlines. First of all, they are portable. If your loved one is away from the phone or outside the house, they can call you.

8. Emergency Response System (ERS)

An ERS is a critical safety device every older adult should have. The trick? Getting them to wear it. ERSs detect falls and have GPS. If your loved one falls and can’t get to the phone, the consequences could be catastrophic. Even the Apple Watch has fall detection, and perhaps a watch ERS is more appealing. Do what you can to find one your loved one will use.

Tips for Safety-Proofing Your Home for Aging Adults With Dementia

An aging adult with dementia requires special care and attention due to their problems with judgment and reasoning. It is like childproofing a house. A home safety checklist will get you started, but if your loved one has advanced Alzheimer’s, they may need 24-hour supervision to stay safe. And don’t forget the vital task of ensuring that you or another family member has healthcare and financial power of attorney.

All of the previous safety tips apply (especially an ERS) to an aging adult with dementia, along with some additional ones:

9. Disable the stove and disposal

Turn the stove off so that your loved one can’t turn it on. Have meals delivered or hire a caregiver to shop and prepare meals. Assess the kitchen in general for hazards such as knives or other gadgets that might be dangerous. 

10. Prevent wandering

To prevent wandering and at the same time secure the home, put locks on all windows and outside doors. While it can seem extra, you can install alarms that alert you if your loved one gets outside.

Hide a key or have an extra one with you if your loved one locks you or themselves out of the house. If driving is dangerous and you haven’t convinced your loved one to stop, take the car keys with you or remove the car.

11. Lock medications in a safe place

Lock all medications in a safe or put them in a place where your loved one can’t access them. Arrange for a nurse or family member to dispense medications if a medication dispenser won’t be adequate. 

12. Hire for lawn care and snow removal

To dissuade an aging adult from engaging in what could be dangerous tasks, hire out all lawn care and snow removal. 

13. Post emergency numbers

Display emergency numbers in large letters in various places in the house. Try not to include too many—911 and your family phone numbers are enough. If your loved one can use a cell phone, program in important numbers to keep it simple. 

14. Remove any firearms

If there are firearms in the home, even older unloaded ones, remove them. It is not worth the risk of incurring an accident that could seriously harm someone unintentionally.

15. Continuous safety assessment

Dementia is a changing and typically progressive disease. The safety features you put in today may not be adequate later on. Always try to assess the home safety situation frequently to anticipate future safety risks.

How to Safety Proof Your Home for Aging Adults

Safety proofing your home for an aging adult is an ongoing effort to prevent falls and other accidents. You don’t want your aging adult to feel like they live in a bubble, but you want to create a living environment that supports healthy habits and minimizes risk.

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