More than three-quarters of U.S. adults age 50+ want to stay in their current homes, but less than 10% of U.S. homes are “aging-ready”. Hence, home safety is increasingly important. Living at home as you age requires careful planning.
Falls, burns, and poisonings are among the most common home accidents involving seniors. If you’re an older adult living on your own, or care for a senior living alone, here are expert tips on home safety.
Keep Emergency Numbers Handy
Keep a list of emergency numbers by each phone. If you no longer have landline phones, have a list at each room where you spend the most time, such as on the kitchen refrigerator, bedside table, living room, etc. Be sure to list numbers for:
- Fire/Ambulance/Police: 911 (Yes, write this down. Some people may “blank out” under stressful situations or have cognitive decline to which you may not yet be aware.)
- Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222.
- A family member or friend to call in case of emergency (preferably nearby).
- Key healthcare providers.
Write or print this information in large font for easy reading.
Safety-Proof Your Home
- Make sure all hallways, stairs, and paths are well lit and clear of objects/clutter.
- Install Power Failure lights/nightlights at key pathways.
- Use railings when going up and down the stairs. If railings are loose or wobbly fix promptly.
- Ensure all carpets are attached firmly to the floor. Fix any ripples or loose corners.
- Experts recommend seniors to NOT use area rugs as they’re often tripping hazards.
Falls are a major health hazard for older Americans, causing millions of injuries and 32,000 deaths per year. By age 65, one in four people will have potentially serious falls. If you have difficulty with walking or balance, or have fallen in the past, talk to your healthcare provider about having a fall risk assessment, as well as information and referral to a Fall Prevention Exercise Program.
Consider getting a medical alert device, or home fall-detection sensors, especially if you live alone. There are numerous options, so take your lifestyle into consideration when selecting a device or home sensor system that detect falls. Some medical alert devices are limited to monitoring only while you’re at home, while others can monitor you even when you’re away from home.
A few more tips to avoid falls:
- Don’t rush to answer the phone and risk sustaining a fall. Carry a cordless phone or cell phone. If you cannot safely get to the phone quickly enough, let the call go to voicemail and check the message when you can get to the phone.
- When walking on smooth floors, wear non-slip footwear, such as socks or slippers with rubber/no-slip bottoms.
- If you have a cane or a walker, use it at all times instead of holding onto walls and furniture.
- Get rid of area rugs and clear clutter especially around walking paths and rooms where you spend the most time.
- Tack loose cords or loose wires to the wall so they don’t become tripping hazards.
Being safe in an area that has moisture and slippery surfaces can be particularly dangerous. Here are a few things to consider:
- Install grab bars at high-risk areas such as the entry to the tub or shower, on the wall inside the tub or shower, next to the toilet.
- Put rubber mats in the bathtub to prevent slipping.
- Set the thermostat on the water heater no higher than 120° F to prevent scalding.
- If you have a hard time getting in and out of your tub, get a special tub chair or bench.
- If it is difficult for you to get on and off the toilet, consider installing a raised toilet seat.
- Only use non-skid rug on the bathroom floor to prevent slipping.
- Don’t use rugs at all if you use a cane or walker.
Protection from Fire and Related Dangers
There are several things to consider in protecting yourself and fire-proofing your home:
- If there is a fire in your home, experts recommend that you do not try to put it out. Know at least two ways to get out of your home. An escape plan can reduce the amount of time required for you to get out safely, and improve your chances of surviving a fire, flood, or similar emergency. Leave immediately and call 911.
- When you are cooking, don’t wear loose clothes or clothes with loose long sleeves that can accidentally catch on fire.
- Replace appliances that have frayed or damaged electrical cords.
- Do not put too many electric cords into one socket or extension cord.
- Install a smoke detector and replace the battery twice a year.
- Never smoke in bed or leave candles burning in an empty room.
- Make sure heaters are at least three feet away from anything that can burn, such as curtains, bedding, or furniture.
- Turn off space heaters when you leave the room.
There are any number of things people have done involving normally innocuous objects or substances that ended up killing them. Among them:
- Carbon Monoxide. Never try to heat your home with your stove, oven, or grill since these can give off carbon monoxide, a deadly gas that you cannot see or smell. Install a carbon monoxide detector near all bedrooms and be sure to test and replace the battery twice a year.
- Cleaning products. Never mix bleach, ammonia, or other cleaning liquids together when you are cleaning. When mixed, cleaning liquids can create deadly gases.
- Those things meant to keep us healthy – and alive – can have just the opposite effect. Keep all medications in their original containers so you do not accidentally mix up medicines. If you have difficulty seeing well, you can ask your pharmacist to put large-print labels on your medications. And take your medications in a well-lit room, so you can see the labels and instructions. During medical appointments, bring all your pill bottles for your medical providers to track, review, and ensure you are taking them correctly and that they do not conflict with other medications you are taking.
Protect Against Intruders
Intruders can attack your home even when you are present. Keep your windows and doors locked at all times. Never let a stranger into your home when you are there alone regardless of the story you may be told. You may call for help for someone claiming to need it, but do not let a stranger inside.
Habitat for Humanity Home Preservation Program
AARP: How to Make a Home Safe for Aging Parents
CDC: Check for Safety
Consumer Product Safety Commission: Home Safety Checklist
Healthinaging.org, National Institute on Aging, AARP, U.S. Census Bureau May 2020 study, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC Home Fall Prevention, CPSC.gov.