An AARP survey updated in 2022 finds 77 percent of adults aged 50 and older want to continue living in their private homes rather than an assisted living or nursing home. While it is understandable that most people prefer to live in familiar surroundings, among cherished possessions, surrounded by neighbors they know and routines they find comforting, the home environment must be safe and appropriate for the senior’s physical and mental health.
If you are concerned about your own safety or the safety of a loved one, there are steps you can take to reduce the risks, beginning with an assessment of safety concerns.
Safety Concerns to Consider
Concerns that may threaten a senior’s well-being if they remain at home can include the following:
- Fall hazards. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that falls are the leading cause of death among seniors 65 and older. Fall hazards include physical objects like loose rugs, medications that cause dizziness, impaired vision or balance, pets, etc.
- Impaired mobility. Loss of mobility can make it challenging for seniors to perform activities of daily living like showering or dressing and household tasks like cleaning, shopping, or laundry. Impaired mobility can lead to many safety issues, including clutter and unsanitary conditions.
- Declining cognitive abilities. Seniors with impaired cognition may struggle to take medications as prescribed and keep track of household bills and other financial tasks.
- Loneliness and isolation. A study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science concluded that “loneliness is a risk factor for mental and physical health problems.” Researchers at the University of Chicago found lonely people, especially seniors, suffer from significantly higher blood pressure.
- Loss of social interaction. Similar to research on the adverse effects of loneliness, studies find social isolation is associated with an increased risk of depression, heart disease, and cognitive decline.
- Failing to eat nutritiously or keep well hydrated. Poor mobility, cognitive decline, and other physical or mental impairments can prevent seniors from operating kitchen appliances safely and preparing nutritious meals.
Home Safety Assessment and Checklist
In addition to the findings from the safety checklist, areas to consider when assessing an older person’s ability to live in their home safely include the following.
Support system – schedule friends and family members to maintain regular contact with the elderly person. Arrange for support services as needed for transportation, home repairs, lawn and garden care, shopping, grocery and meal delivery, and other errands.
Assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) – Determine how much aid the older adult needs with ADLs, including transferring in and out of bed or a chair, bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting, eating, and assistance with continence issues. Also, assess their ability to perform household tasks.
Wearable emergency response service – A device that alerts family members and a police or medical response team to falls and other emergencies can be lifesaving.
Physical therapy can reduce fall risk – Have a health professional assess the senior’s muscle strength, mobility, and balance. A physical therapist can design a program to help the older person improve their strength and balance, which can minimize their risk of falling.
Bathroom – According to National Institute on Aging statistics, about 80 percent of falls happen in the bathroom. To minimize the risk of falling, does the senior’s bathroom have the following?
- A walk-in shower rather than a shower in a bathtub.
- Slip-resistant flooring. Shatter-resistant shower enclosure.
- A shower bench and a hand-held shower nozzle so they can sit while bathing.
- Grab bars in the shower and next to the toilet.
- Good lighting in the shower.
- Appropriate counter height to accommodate a senior using a wheelchair.
- Toilet seat riser.
Assess whether the senior needs support when getting in and out of the tub or shower or up from the toilet.
Floors and doors – A study analyzing the causes of falls among older people concluded 30 to 50 percent fell because of poor lighting, slippery floors, and uneven surfaces. Check for the following:
- Are there throw rugs or other loose floorings? Remove them or ensure they are secured to the floor.
- Does the older adult have to maneuver around furniture or other obstacles to move about their home? Ensure the floors are clear of obstructions and trip hazards. Remove unneeded furniture so the person can more easily navigate their home.
- Are the floors composed of hard surfaces like ceramic tiles? Consider installing carpeting to reduce the risk of a fall injury.
- Are there lamp cords, cables, or other wires on the floor? Ensure they are against the wall or behind furniture where they aren’t a trip hazard.
- Are doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or walker?
Bedroom – If the elderly person’s bedroom is upstairs, assess whether a room on the first floor could serve as their bedroom if needed.
- Is the bed too high or too low to get in and out of safely? If it is too low, can it be raised with bed risers, a mattress topper, or by adding wheels to the frame? You can also adjust the height up or down with an adjustable bed frame.
- Is there a light next to the bed within easy reach?
- Is the path clear from the bed to the bathroom?
- Is there a nightlight in the bedroom and the bathroom?
If the person uses the upstairs, ensure the railing is sturdy, the steps have well-secured carpet or nonslip pads, and the area is well-lit.
Kitchen – The kitchen can be dangerous for seniors with limited mobility or cognitive impairment, including memory issues. Check the following potential risks in light of the older person’s current physical and mental function and reassess as those functions change.
- Are the appliances easy to reach and operate?
- Does the stove alert to a hot burner?
- Are the cabinets and drawers easy to reach?
- Are items they use most often kept on lower shelves or lower cabinets? (waist high is best)
- Review the area for fire hazards such as dish towels or curtains that are dangerously close to stove burners. Ensure there is a fire extinguisher within easy reach.
- Is the ventilation system clean and functioning?
- Is there a working smoke detector near the kitchen (and throughout the house)?
- Does the kitchen have good lighting? Is the floor free of trip hazards?
- Are sharp objects safely stored?
Throughout the house
- Ensure all indoor and outdoor areas have sufficient lighting. Install motion-sensitive night lights and emergency lights that activate during a power loss in all areas of the home.
- If there are steps into the home, make sure the elderly person can easily navigate them.
- Consider adding voice-operated devices like Alexa so the older person can control lights and thermostats and make emergency calls using their voice or phone.
Let Us Help Keep Your Elderly Loved Ones Safe
Contact the At Home Harmony experts at 804-210-3103 or [email protected] for more tips on keeping your elderly loved one — or yourself — safe at home and where to get the help you need.