It’s a fact of life that as we age, our safety concerns increase. Physical changes associated with aging may raise new issues in your home, so it’s important to create a safe environment for independent living. And it’s never too early to start! It’s better to make these adjustments now so you don’t have to worry about them a decade down the line. Fortunately, there are many ways to make your home environment much safer.
1. Fire Safety
While smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers are essential safety equipment in every home, placing these items in easy-to-access locations is especially important in the home of a senior citizen. Impaired hearing may make it difficult to hear an alarm sounding in another part of the house, so it’s important to place carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors in frequently used spaces such as bedrooms, bathrooms, the kitchen, and the living room. Likewise, impaired mobility may make it more difficult to get to a fire extinguisher quickly for small fires, so store several in easy-to-reach places such as in a kitchen cupboard, in the bedroom, in the bathroom, and in the living room. If possible, make smoke detectors part of a monitored alarm system, which decreases fire department response time.
2. Safer Bathrooms
Showers can be slick, making them dangerous for those with limited mobility or poor eyesight. There are multiple ways to increase the safety of baths and showers.
- Grab bars help with stability, and can prevent slips and falls. Likewise, a grab bar installed near the entrance to a tub or shower will give you something to hold onto when stepping over the edge of the tub. Install grab bars at arm height, as well as one at about waist height. You can also install a grab bar next to the toilet so you can pull yourself up and safely lower yourself.
- Rubber mats or decals render tile less slippery, minimizing the risk of slipping and falling.
- Shower seats give you a place to safely sit during a shower. These improve safety by allowing you to sit if you feel dizzy or tired. Choose a sturdy seat that affixes firmly to the floor of the tub or shower.
- Walk-in tubs and showers eliminate the risk associated with the high-step into the bath tub/shower that is a fall hazard.
- Taller toilets make it easier to get up and down. Many major manufacturers make toilets with higher seats, which can improve safety for those with mobility impairments.
3. Monitored Alarm Systems
Along with a monitored fire alarm system, you’ll be safer with monitored burglar alarms, as well as a personal emergency response and home safety alert system. Choose monitored alarm systems that have easily accessible panic buttons. These systems provide easy ways for you to call for help if you’re injured, sick, or unable to get to a telephone.
4. More Lighting
Inadequate lighting may cause accidents. Make sure all high-traffic areas (such as the living room and bedroom) have bright, easily accessible lighting. Install automated and safety lighting inside and outside of the house. Outside, install motion activated safety lights, which can provide visibility after dark and may discourage intruders, as well. Inside, install an automated lighting system so you can easily access and turn on lights without having to cross a room to find a light switch.
5. Safer Stairs
Indoor and outdoor stairs may also create hazards. Take the following precautions to make stairs safer.
- Outside, install non-skid strips on steps and porches to provide extra traction when they are wet.
- Tighten all handrails and banisters to provide a sturdy support for ascending and descending stairs. If stairs do not have a handrail, install one at slightly lower than elbow height.
- Remove runners from stairways, which can be a tripping hazard.
- Indoors on wooden stairs, install non-skid strips.
- Install ramps if you use a walker or wheelchair.
6. Outdoor Safety
Outdoor areas have a number of safety hazards that need to be secured to keep you safe.
- Trim trees, plants, and hedges so they don’t infringe on walkways.
- Maintain adequate outdoor lighting. Consider installing pathway lighting to help improve nighttime visibility.
- Fix cracked, broken, or displaced pavers and tiles, which can be tripping hazards.
- Level rough patches of lawn that may have bumps or holes that can be tripping hazards.
- Install non-skid decking, or use materials on decks to keep it safer in wet weather.
- Fix broken steps and loose or uneven boards on decks and porches.
- Tighten handrails and deck rails so they are secure to grip.
- Keep sidewalks clear of debris that could cause trips and falls.
Make bedrooms safer with several bedroom upgrades.
- Install sturdy bed rails to assist with getting in and out of bed.
- Place a phone next to the bed and post emergency phone numbers where they are easy to see.
- Create some kind of emergency escape in case of fire, such as a window safety slide.
- Adjust bed height so it is not too difficult to get in or out of. Medical professionals suggest a safe bed height is at knee level or lower. An adjustable bed can also increase safety, making it safer for you to get in and out of bed.
- Use a firm mattress on the bed, which makes it easier to get off the bed.
- Place lighting controls next to the bed and just inside the door so you don’t have to cross the room in the dark.
- Install a night-light or small lamp in en-suite bathrooms so it’s easier to find the way in the dark.
While we may not have the ability to stop ourselves aging (or stop the physical declines associated), we can make large changes to our home environment to accommodate them. By taking steps to improve your surrounding environment, you can greatly increase your health, safety, and longevity!