This Home Safety Checklist for Seniors Will Help You and Your Loved Ones Age Safely at Home
Under the best circumstances, home is where we feel safe, comfortable, and most at peace. However, as we approach the later decades of life, home can suddenly present new challenges.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), millions of older adults—more than one out of four age 65 and older—fall every year, many of them in their own homes. The National Council on Aging reports that falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related death for seniors. Furthermore, the risk of falling increases with each additional 10 years of life. And once you've fallen, you're twice as likely to do it again.
What you can do to make sure your home is safe
Making sure your home is safe for you and your loved ones as you get older is an important part of staying healthy and maintaining your independence. Use the following checklist to help identify and address potential issues in your home, which will help you prevent falls and other accidents from occurring.
- Never leave an older adult with a severe disability alone in a bathroom.
- Make sure all showers and tubs are non-slip by using adhesive strips or mats. You can also place them in front of the bathtub, sink, and toilet for added stability.
- Remove any loose rugs that can cause an older person to trip.
- Consider installing washable wall-to-wall bathroom carpeting. This can help prevent slips on wet floors.
- Install a raised toilet seat with handrails to make it easier for older adults to sit down and get up.
- Put grab bars inside the bathtub and shower and next to the toilet to prevent falls.
- Install a foam rubber faucet cover over the bathtub faucet to prevent injuries if a person does fall.
- Provide a plastic shower stool for older adults to sit on and install a handheld shower wand to make bathing easier.
- Consider installing a walk-in tub for older adults. These tubs include safety features like:
- Extra-wide doors for easy access
- Low step-in capability
- Slip resistance
- A bidet toilet seat is a great idea for older adults who have trouble cleaning themselves.
- Always keep an automatic night-light in the bathroom so that older individuals are never in complete darkness.
- Make sure older adults remove their hearing aids before bathing. Keep in mind that they might not be able to hear you until their hearing aids are properly inserted. If your elderly loved one doesn't have a pair, consider purchasing hearing aids to avoid miscommunications that could lead to a fall.
- If there's liquid or other slippery substances on your floors, this poses a huge risk for elderly people. Slippery surfaces can result from mopping, spills, plumbing leaks, or water being brought inside during inclement weather conditions. If you're unable to completely clean up a wet or slippery area, mark it with a plastic cone or another item to alert those in your household.
- Rugs that aren't secured, have curled edges, or are torn present home safety hazards for seniors. Examine the rugs in your home and think about how you can improve the transition from room to room.
- When older adults live in a home with cluttered floors, they are more likely to fall. If they have to maneuver around objects, they might lose their balance. Brainstorm how you can organize and reduce piles to create clear pathways.
Stairs and steps
- Do the stairs have secure handrails on both sides? There must be enough space between the handrails and the wall so older adults can get a firm grasp.
- Are the stair treads deep enough for older adults to place their whole foot on them when going up and down the stairs?
- Do the stairs have adequate lighting? There should be functioning light switches at both the top and bottom of the stairs.
- Each step should provide a safe and stable surface. If you have wood or tile steps that might be slippery, consider installing rubber treads to help prevent falls.
- Remove any loose runners and rugs on or at the top and bottom of the stairs that may cause someone to trip.
- Consider installing ramps and chair lifts where feasible. This will allow older adults to move around the home safely.
- Keep the kitchen well lit, even during the night, in case an older adult wanders in. Install automatic night-lights or motion-detection lights to ensure they're never in the dark.
- Proper lighting must be installed over the stove and countertop areas to prevent injuries.
- Remove any loose throw rugs to prevent someone from slipping.
- Remove any clutter from the floor that someone might trip over.
- Make items your elderly loved ones need to use easily accessible. Avoid the need for step stools and ladders to reach cooking and eating utensils.
- Put a water-absorbent, non-skid mat in front of the kitchen sink to prevent falls.
- Find sturdy kitchen chairs with arms that older adults can use to sit and get up safely.
- If possible, opt for slip-proof flooring rather than shiny floors.
- Encourage older adults to wear non-slip shoes with skid-free soles.
- Wipe up spills immediately to avoid accidents.
- Consider installing portable guardrails between the mattress and box spring.
- If you plan to use a hospital bed with rails and wheels, read the home safety instructions. This information is available on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website.
- Think about placing a monitoring device by the bed, like the ones used for babies and small children, so you're alerted to any problems.
- Install automatic night-lights or motion-detection lights so that older adults can see when they're going to the bathroom.
- Place a small table lamp on each side of the bed within easy reach.
- Make sure your loved one's bed is the right height. They should be able to place their feet firmly on the floor when sitting on the edge of the mattress.
- Remove any throw rugs that a person might trip over.
- Replace any torn or frayed carpeting.
- Keep electrical cords away from walkways.
- Clear out any furniture or decor that might make it difficult for an elderly person to move around.
- Just as you did in the bedroom, keep electrical cords, throw rugs, and furniture away from walkways. Also, replace any torn or frayed carpeting.
- Place decals on picture windows and sliding glass doors so older individuals can easily identify them as glass.
- Encourage your senior to wear bluetooth hearing aids. This will help them stay connected to iOS and Android phones, tablets, the television, and other audio devices—no more getting up to answer the phone or turning up the volume to an unbearable level.
- Remove low-style coffee tables, which can be hard to see and easy to trip over.
- Insist that your loved one asks for help with any tasks that require step stools or ladders. Some fire departments will come to change out batteries in smoke detectors that seniors can't reach.
Medical alert devices can be lifesavers for older adults after a fall
Elderly individuals who fall may not be able to get back up. And if they remain on the floor for too long, they can incur additional health problems from injuries like hip fractures.
Many older people, especially those who live alone, rely on medical alert systems. The best medical alert devices will notify emergency services and a patient's loved ones if they experience a medical emergency of any kind. Some medical alert devices come with an app for caregivers, which allows them to monitor a senior's daily activities and track their location.
Other home safety action steps to help prevent falls
Consider health status
Here are a handful of health factors that could contribute to a fall:
- Vertigo: This symptom can make an older adult dizzy to the point where they can't stand or walk properly. Talk to a doctor for recommendations on how to reduce or eliminate dizziness from vertigo.
- Vision problems: Many seniors require eyeglasses to see clearly. Elderly people should get eye exams at least once a year to make sure their eyeglass prescription is up to date. If your loved one has cataracts, speak to an ophthalmologist about possible treatments.
- Hearing loss: Even a mild degree of hearing loss triples the risk of a fall. Older adults should undergo regular hearing exams to determine whether they need hearing aids.
- Lack of lower body strength: There are several easy leg exercises seniors can do to improve strength, mobility, and balance, including tai chi and yoga. Encourage your loved one to try them at home or to work with a personal trainer who will cater to their specific needs. Health care providers can also advise on the best type of exercise program.
- Foot pain or neuropathy: Elderly individuals who experience pain or numbness in their feet could easily fall. A podiatrist may recommend special footwear or other therapies to help with stability, and seniors should get their feet checked at least once a year.
- Vitamin D deficiency: Low levels of vitamin D can cause decreased muscle strength and physical performance. Older adults should ask their doctor to test for a vitamin D deficiency. It's often difficult to get enough vitamin D through food alone, so a supplement may be required.
- Medications: Sedatives, antidepressants, and tranquilizers can all affect balance. Medications used to treat high blood pressure, such as alpha- and beta-blockers, can cause lightheadedness, dizziness, and weakness when a person gets up in the morning or stands after sitting. Consult your loved one's doctor if these symptoms arise.
- Dehydration: It's essential to stay hydrated, no matter how old you are. Keep a bottle of water close to your senior so that they remember to drink throughout the day.
Arrange for a home safety assessment
A home safety assessment calls for a home safety expert, like a social worker, geriatric care manager, or certified aging-in-place specialist, to come into a home and look for potential fall risks. They suggest improvements and provide a customized home-modification plan to eliminate hazards both inside and outside the home.
Don't let the fear of falling get in the way of aging at home, whether it's you or a loved one.
Jacqueline Trovato is a health care and legal writer with nearly 40 years of experience.