When most people picture their old age, they see themselves either in the home they live in now, or imagine retiring to another house of their liking. The goal of most seniors – 87% according to one study – is to spend the rest of their lives living in a home of their own.
One difficulty that comes with that plan is that most houses simply aren’t built to be safe for aging seniors. Plenty of things are designed in ways that make perfect sense when you’re young, but quickly become a daily risk of injury when you’re older and a simple fall comes with serious health consequences.
If you’re going to stay in your own home as you age, then you have to take some precautions to make it safe for you to do so.
- Go through each room of the house looking for potential issues.
To start, you have to move through your house with the goal of looking at it through new eyes – eyes that are out to find every little thing that might be likely to cause or contribute to a fall.
Keep a notepad with you as you go room to room, so you can make a record of everything you need to change. Ask a friend or loved one to join you so you have help looking out for potential problems from someone who will have an easier time seeing things you’ll miss due to your familiarity of the home.
- Items you’ll need to access that are out of reach
- Anything likely to fall at an inopportune moment
- Anything you’re likely to bump into in the dark
- Anything you might trip over
- Anything you’d have to step over – especially if it requires a high step
It’s challenging to look at the same rooms you see every day and see them differently, but that’s the goal here. Identify all the potential hazards, even if they seem fairly minimal, so you can turn your notes into a to do list of things to update to make your home safer.
- Re-arrange the furniture.
You want every room to have clear paths you can take to get around without the risk of running into or tripping over anything. That will probably mean having to re-arrange the furniture in your home to move more items against the wall or otherwise out of the way.
Don’t try to do this step on your own. Ask a loved one to come over and help. You may have to get rid of some items that don’t really fit anywhere out-of-the way in the room. If it makes you safer and reduces the likelihood of ending up having to recuperate in a hospital room – the loss will be worth it.
- Get rid of rugs.
While they can definitely add some nice aesthetics to the space, rugs present a danger to seniors. The edges can be a tripping hazard, and anytime the rug bunches up, the upraised spots become a tripping hazard as well. No matter how much you enjoy the visual appeal they bring to a room, it’s not worth risking a serious fall.
Offer them to friends and loved ones, or put them into a storage space – just get them out of the way where they won’t be lying in wait to trip you.
- Add more lighting.
The better you can see what’s around you, the more you reduce the risk of running into things or tripping over something. Add lighting low on the wall anywhere in the home where there’s a step or something you could risk tripping over or running into. Add lights under your kitchen cabinets to better illuminate the counters where you do food prep.
You can buy inexpensive stick-on tap lights as an easy solution in a lot of the spaces that need more light. And as much as possible, try to stick with adding lights that don’t require cords you might trip over.
- Re-organize your cabinets for better accessibility.
Anytime you try to get on a chair or stepladder to reach something, you’re putting yourself at unnecessary risk. Tackle all the cabinets in your kitchen, bathroom, and anywhere else in your house to move anything currently out of reach somewhere lower. Have a family member or friend help you do it (if you’re standing on a chair to complete this task yourself, you’re kind of defeating the purpose).
You may need to get creative or buy some new organizational products in order to start storing some of the items that used to live in high up cabinets on your counters. Even if it makes the space look a little more cluttered, the convenience and increased safety of keeping the items you’ll need accessible is worth it.
- Install smart lights or the clapper.
You never want to find yourself in the position of having to walk across a room or up or down the stairs in the dark in order to get to the light switch. An easy fix to that is to install something like the clapper (yes, the one you’ve seen in old commercials) or smart lights that you can turn on and off with your phone or with voice commands using a smart home product like Alexa.
- Grab bars in the bathroom
They may not seem that way to the average observer, but bathrooms are the most dangerous room in a home. Bathtubs become hard to step over. Wet floors are a slipping hazard. And getting on and off the toilet can become a difficult process each time.
You can make a big difference in home safety by simply installing grab bars strategically around the space to make it easier to keep your balance as you navigate the dangers of the bathroom.
- Make the bathtub safer.
In addition to grab bars, consider the various options available to make getting in and out of the bathtub easier. While walk-in tubs are heavily advertised, you can find a number of affordable or more practical alternatives that may be easier to implement in your own space. The right tools can make the fraught process of taking a bath or shower each day much safer.
- Hire a regular cleaning service.
You might not think to equate cleanliness with safety, but as aging makes it harder to keep a home consistently clean on your own, it can become a safety hazard. A dirty home can lead to bugs and encounters with harmful bacteria and allergens.
To keep your home safe and sanitary in the long term, commit to hiring someone to help with the around-the-house cleaning chores you’ll have a hard time doing yourself.
- Buy a medical response system.
One of the greatest fears many family members of seniors have is the possibility of their loved one getting hurt or suffering a medical emergency with no one around to call for help. A medical alert system helps ease that fear by monitoring a senior’s well being and immediately alerting emergency services and loved ones when a senior experiences a fall or other medical emergency.
A matter of minutes can make a huge difference in a medical emergency and medical response systems make sure someone living alone will get care as soon as possible.
Many seniors make the decision to age in place because it seems like the option that will provide the greatest quality of life in their remaining years. That’s not always the case. Many assisted living facilities offer great amenities, fun activities, the chance to socialize with other seniors – and fewer responsibilities. Give a look to some of the senior living options available in your area, and carefully consider if aging in place really is the best option for you.