Your home is supposed to be your sanctuary, a place where you always feel comfortable and safe. As seniors get older though, that sanctuary can turn dangerous. Everyday items around your house and run-of-the mill tasks you do regularly at home start to come with a risk of falls. And a fall in your senior years can be serious.
For seniors that want to age in place, keeping your home safe and comfortable requires making a few home modifications.
Basic Home Modifications
Many of the home modifications that make you safer are easy. Each of these can likely be done without needing to call in a professional (although a couple might be easier if you get a family member over to help).
- Open up the space in your rooms.
The more space you allow in each of your rooms, the better. Make sure there are clear pathways and plenty of space to walk in without bumping into anything, especially in the rooms you spend a lot of time in. Unnecessary furniture can go to family members or be put on Craigslist. Just keep what you need now and get the rest out of the way so your home has more uninhibited space.
- Remove anything that’s a trip hazard.
Especially pay attention to any items in your house that are low to the ground. Make sure any rugs that could bunch up and become a trip hazard are removed (even if they look nice, they’re not worth the risk).
You probably can’t avoid having cords in your home, but make sure to keep them away from the areas you walk in as much as possible, and use cord covers anywhere that you can’t avoid having them in the way.
If you have pets, make sure any doggy beds or food and water bowls are kept somewhere where you’re very unlikely to accidentally trip over them. There’s not much you can do to avoid tripping over the pets themselves, other than trying to be vigilant about where they are at any given time.
- Move items you use often within easy reach.
Don’t make yourself climb on things or strain yourself reaching for items you know you’re going to use. Think about what items in your kitchen, closet, and pantry you regularly need access to and re-organize the space to make sure they’re all within easy reach.
- Lower the temperature on your water heater.
Hot water can cause some serious burn injuries if you’re not careful. Many manufacturers set the default temperature for the water heater higher than most people ever need it to be.
You can reduce the risk of accidentally scalding yourself while taking a shower or doing the dishes by reducing the temperature from 140° to 120°. Here are some basic instructions on how to do so.
- Add extra lighting.
Do a survey of your whole house to determine anywhere that could use more visibility. In most cases, you won’t need to add in new fixtures. You can buy affordable stick-on lights and light tape to put along stairs, on the ground, or in cabinets and drawers that are too dark now.
- Add traction slips to the bathroom floor.
The bathroom is one of the spaces where you face the biggest risk of a fall, since the water makes the floor slippery. Buy traction slips or non-skid tape to put on the bathroom floor and the bottom of the bath.
- Install an elevated toilet seat.
One of the most frustrating mobility issues many seniors face is finding it difficult to get up and down from the toilet. An elevated toilet seat makes the process much easier and installing one is pretty simple.
- Add levered handles to doors and faucets.
For seniors that have arthritis or find their hands getting weaker, opening doors or turning on the water can start to become more of a challenge. Switching out door handles and faucets with lever handles can do the trick. This is job that involves some tools, so if you don’t feel up to it yourself, see if you can find handy family member or neighbor to help out.
- Install a doorbell and smoke detector with lights.
If your hearing is starting to fail, then the tools in your house that depend on sound will no longer cut it. You can find doorbells that turn on a light, so you’ll know when someone comes over even without being able to hear. More importantly, you can update your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms with models that add lights or bed shaker attachments so you’ll be adequately warned during a fire or carbon monoxide leak.
- Get a Clapper or make your house smart.
One of the simple things that drastically increases the risk of a fall is having to walk anywhere in the house without a light on. If your light switches aren’t conveniently located enough, then walking in some level of darkness could be a regular occurrence.
The Clapper makes it easy to turn on the lights without getting up from your seat by simply making a loud noise. It’s a little more complicated, but Amazon has a number of products like their Echo, that can be hooked up in your home to make things like turning on lights and changing the thermostat all possible to do by voice.
Advanced Home Modifications
Some home modifications are more involved and should not be attempted on your own. By calling in a professional to tackle some of these tasks though, you can make your home safer and more comfortable for years to come.
- Install grab bars.
As keeping your balance becomes more difficult, having grab bars in various spots around your house can be the difference between catching yourself just in time or falling down. Your bathroom, your hallway, and next to your bed are all smart spots to add grab bars.
- Widen your doorways.
If your mobility issues ever reach the point where you need a wheelchair, a walker, or even just crutches, have more space to get through your doorways will be a blessing (and in some cases, required). It’s not a simple project, but at a certain point, widening your doorways could be the thing that keeps your home accessible to you.
Stair lifts are costly, but if you have stairs in your home and can no longer walk up and down them safely, then it’s an important addition to your home. Some forms of insurance may help cover the cost of stair lifts, so if you feel you need one but find the cost prohibitive, it’s worth doing some research to see if part of the cost will be covered for you.
- Install a walk-in tub.
Getting in and out of the tub is one of the most difficult and risky tasks a senior faces once they start to have mobility and balance issues. Like a stair lift, a walk-in tub is a pretty costly addition to your home, but one that can increase the ease and safety of bathing considerably.
- Install wheelchair ramps.
Finally, any senior that starts to need a wheelchair to get around will need wheelchair ramps installed in various places around the home. Wheelchair ramps won’t become necessary for all seniors, but for those that do need them they’ll make all the difference in being able to stay in your own home.
While some of these home modifications get expensive, they can help you save money overall in comparison to the cost of health expenses associated with a fall or a nursing home. And more to the point, your safety has to be one of your top concerns as you age. Proper home modifications do the important job of increasing your comfort, but also the crucial one of increasing your level of safety in your own home.