En español | As your family members or loved ones age, so do their homes. It is good practice to step back occasionally and examine the homes to see how well the living arrangement supports your loved ones’ daily needs and activities. There are many steps you can take to ensure that your family members stay safe and comfortable in their homes. Often these changes can be made with little or no cost, while they also make homes more user-friendly and welcoming. In this column, I note some safety tips to evaluate in your loved ones’ homes, so you can help them successfully age in place.
I've written before about the numbers: Nearly 90 percent of older Americans want to stay in their current homes as they age. Overwhelmingly, that's where people want to live if they need care as they get older. But sometimes, features in your loved ones’ homes can be their biggest obstacles to remaining independent. As a caregiver, I know the safety of your loved one is your primary concern. By taking small-but-practical steps—including the modifications I describe below—you can transform your loved ones’ "home sweet home" into "home safe home."
- Remove all scatter and throw rugs, which can lead to falls.
- Open blinds and curtains, and raise shades during daylight hours to increase natural light inside the home.
- Place electrical, phone, and computer cords along walls where they will not trip anyone. To avoid the risk of fire, do not run the wires under carpeting.
- Remove clutter from the staircases and hallways to prevent trips and falls.
- Set the hot-water heater to 120 degrees to prevent scalding and to reduce energy consumption.
While all of the above can be done without spending money, you might find some changes are hard for your loved one to accept. For instance, Mom may like her scatter and throw rugs because they add color to her rooms. It's important that you explain to her why you are suggesting removing these trip hazards. Tell her you want her to consider the change because you're worried about her falling and seriously hurting herself. Be creative in how you approach the conversation—perhaps suggest that she could move the rug from the floor to the wall or add throw pillows on a chair or sofa to add color without safety risk!
As you make these no-cost changes, I suggest you look around your parents' house to see whether or not you could take additional steps to ensure the safest possible home. Here are some low-cost changes that run between $35 and $75 and will make a home even safer:
- Increase lighting by using the highest-watt bulbs possible for fixtures or lamps.
- Place double-sided tape or carpet mesh under area rugs to prevent slipping.
- Install offset hinges on all doors to add 2 inches of width for easier access.
- Replace traditional light switches with easy-to-use, rocker-style switches.
- Install night-lights in hallways between bedrooms and bathrooms.
- Replace knobs on cabinets and drawers with easy-to-grip, D-shaped handles.
- Add anti-slip strips in the bathtubs and showers.
- Mount grab-bars in the bathtubs and showers, and place a sturdy waterproof seat in the shower so your loved one can sit down while bathing or showering.
- Install a handheld adjustable shower head for easier bathing.
- Install handrails on both sides of each stairway to support your loved ones' sure footing.
You can find low-cost tools and products at your local hardware or home improvement store. It's important that you or a contractor properly install all the updates, so find a reputable handyman to help you if you need assistance.
It might be hard for your loved one to consider certain features, such as the installation of grab-bars in the bathroom. "I don't want those things," Mom might say. "It'll look like a hospital room." This is the time to speak from your heart. Use "I" statements. Tell her you worry about her and