For elders who want to continue living independently, home safety is essential. Among the home modifications that will help keep your parent safe, be sure to focus on those that help to prevent falls. As people age, their chance of falling increases significantly, and combined with medical conditions and medications, falls are even more likely. Falls are the number one cause of accidental home injury deaths, reports the Home Safety Council, accounting for 5.1 million injuries and almost 6,000 deaths each year. The vast majority of these deaths are among people 65 and older — more men than women.
In addition to some basic measures, such as removing clutter and keeping floors clean, take note of the following eight items that can go a long way in preventing a fall, and keeping your aging parent living at home safely:
- Shower and tub grab bars in bathrooms. This is the number one key item that will help your aging parent feel safe and secure. Don't be tempted to use a towel bar — get the best quality grab bar you can afford and install it either with a blind fastening system or with blocking in the wall. Don't rely on wall anchors. Grab bars have prevented accidents, but the early ones didn't do much for the aesthetics of a bathroom. Today's grab bars come in finishes and colors that make them much more appealing.
- Railings: on both sides of stairs, extendable handrail if stairs are too wide. If it's not possible to live in a home without stairs, seniors need to feel safe ascending and descending. If they are too nervous about using the stairs, they may develop a feeling of isolation.
- Medical alert systems: emergency pull cords in bathrooms that set off flashing lights for in-home caregiver or are connected to phone; movement indicators; door alarms. Although you may not want to leave your aging parent alone, he or she typically will prefer some privacy, so set up a situation that gives your parent the desired privacy and gives you peace of mind.
- Nonslip bath mats in bathrooms and on other slippery floor surfaces, nonslip inserts for bathtubs and showers. Other flooring tips: Remove scatter rugs and other floor treatments that create more slippery situations and remove all clutter on stairways and floors.
- Lighting: Higher wattage bulbs (because seniors can't see as well in lower light as they age, and might not realize it), and night lights
- Door levers: Levers are much easier to hold and turn compared to traditional door handles or knobs.
- Remote entrance to home: Seniors will find it much easier to press a button or enter a code when entering the home versus handling keys in locks. Other entryway tips: remove any hindrances to entering the home — install a ramp from the driveway to the front door, make at least one entry into the home level and remove screen doors.
- Accessible bathroom fixtures: Because seniors may have trouble lowering themselves onto a traditional height toilet, install toilets at a higher height, or purchase a toilet extender seat. Also make sure the shower area is set up to be accessible: the best shower is a walk-in, with nonslip flooring, grab bars and a seat (permanent or removable). Another bathroom safety tip: be sure the hot water is set at a maximum temperature to prevent inadvertent scalding.