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Make Your Home Safe for Your Aging Parent

Adapting to accommodate your loved one

Woman helping older man up stairs

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Job #1 when moving your aging parent or loved one into your home — or helping them age in place in their own home — is making it safe. Take a look at the home from the perspective of a person who uses a wheelchair or is a fall risk.

You need a plan.

1. Call in a pro.

2. Modify. Adapted homes can be stylish, comfortable and safe for all ages. You may need:

  • zero-threshold entryways
  • wide doorways and halls
  • offset door hinges to make room for a wheelchair, walker or two people walking side by side
  • controls and switches that are reachable from a wheelchair or bed
  • a waterproof seat in the shower
  • a stair-climber
  • a raised toilet seat
  • a shower chair
  • a  frameless walk-in shower with a sloped floor instead of a step-over threshold
  • put textured no-slip strips in the bathtub and shower to lessen the chance of a fall

3. Make simple fixes. Every year, 1 in 4 adults over age 65 take a fall. To lessen the chances:

  • Remove throw rugs.
  • Use rubber-backed bathmats.
  • Move laundry facilities to the first floor.
  • Remove wheels on chairs.
  • Put nonskid treads on steps.
  • Keep steps clear.
  • Apply nonslip wax to floors.
  • If wandering is a worry, add monitors and sensor alarms.
  • Repair loose carpeting or raised areas of flooring.
  • Move small and low furniture.
  • Clear electric cords and clutter.
  • Add a hall railing.
  • Switch out standard doorknobs for lever handles.
  • Add a raised toilet and grab bars.
  • Remove locks from bedroom and bathroom doors so you can get in quickly, should your loved one fall.
  • Put a railing on the hall wall.
  • Swap out your recliner for one that raises and lowers — to make getting up easier.

4. Do your homework. Call your area agency on aging, Veterans Affairs office, or faith-based, civic or other community-based organizations for in-home care provider referrals. You should:

  • Run background and reference checks.
  • Monitor their work.  
  • Stop by at unexpected times.

5. Stay out of hot water. You may want to:

  • Invest in easily installed sink, tub and shower antiscalding devices that recognize when the water is too hot and stop the flow. Cost: about $40.
  • Option 2: Adjust the thermostat on your water heater so it stays at or under 120 degrees.

6. Light the way. As we age, we need more light. Install:

  • bright lights in hallways, closets, stairwells
  • extra lamps — consider models that turn on and off with a touch
  • outdoor motion sensor lights and path lights

7. Modify the kitchen. Put frequently used items on an easy-to-reach refrigerator shelf. Also:

  • Consider using automatic devices to turn off the stove and oven or installing an induction cooktop — which turns off when a pot is removed from the burner.
  • Hang a fire extinguisher within reach.

8. Check alarms.

  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your loved one’s bedroom, and test existing alarms.

9. Stay connected. If your loved one is home alone:

  • Check in with Skype or another video-chat app.
  • Mount a motion-activated security camera in the home — with your loved one’s permission.

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