Over 33% of senior citizens (about 13 million) live alone in their home or apartment according to the US Census. Many accidents occur in the home, and senior adults are the group most vulnerable to serious injuries. Creating a safe home environment while on a budget for older adults is necessary in order for them to continue living independently at advanced ages.
If mental faculties are in decline, older adults may not recognize the risks that can lead to dangerous and life-altering falls. The following tips can help you improve the safety of your home or that of an aging friend or family member. Most of these are directed at elderly who may also have limited funds to pay for safety measures.
Conduct a Home Safety Check to Prevent Falls
Potential safety hazards include a variety of obstacles. Many home conditions can lead to a dangerous or deadly fall. Although there is no way you can create total safety, the following tips can be helpful when creating a safe home environment for a senior family member. There are also ways to get both professional advice as well as financial aid to pay for durable equipment or home modifications, especially when the senior citizen has a minor or some form of disability.
Mobility issues can make it difficult for seniors to put things away on top shelves of cabinets. Tasks that were once easy to do may become difficult and hazardous. If space permits, storage units with shelves no higher than eye-level make it easy for older folks to keep their belongings organized safely.
Potential safety hazards include a variety of obstacles that may cause the elderly resident to trip or fall. Shoes, bags, clothing, and other clutter should be removed from walkways, stairs, and heavy traffic areas. Electrical cords should not be in the open in any room or walkway. Also add low cost non-slip strips in the bathroom to prevent slippage on a wet floor. Tripping over cords can lead to a broken hip or other serious injuries.
Remove all throw rugs. They are high on the list of fall causes. Even rugs that are taped down or have other adhesive attachments can be potentially deadly to seniors. Many older people shuffle as they walk, and a toe or shoe tip can get caught under the edge of a rug that has been taped down. This can cause a dangerous fall.
Bathrooms are rooms where accidents frequently occur. Money invested in a walk-in bathtub has an excellent safety return and significantly reduces the risk of injury. Bathroom modifications can also add to the resale value of a home if/when the senior decides to sell it. Remove all throw rugs from the bathroom and install safety bars next to the toilet. Install a comfort height toilet (typically 17 to 19 inches, but bear in mind the height of the user) to reduce knee and back pain when sitting. Also be sure to add the non-slip material to the shower and/or floors to prevent falls.
Emergency alert systems can also help protect a senior living along at home. There are life alert systems as well as emergency systems from home security companies. Not only can they help keep the elderly resident safe, but they also give a level of confidence. These systems, such as Bay Alarm Medical or systems from ADT Home Security, will send an alarm to a call center and/or first responder if they detect the senior falling at their home. The systems will dispatch the police or an ambulance if needed.
Kitchen accidents are also frequent in the older population. Keep all necessities on lower shelves to remove the need for using a footstool. Arthritic hands can have difficulty using knives, and that can lead to dangerous cuts. Purchase pre-cut vegetables and fruit, or choose a day to prepare those items for the older family member and place a week’s supply in the refrigerator. An electric can opener is also helpful for people with arthritis.
Poor nutrition is another problem seniors often face. Low energy, fixing a meal for just one, and loneliness are common reasons older adults tend to skip meals. You can help by preparing meals ahead that can be easily heated in the microwave. Or turn to a food pantry for USDA approved meals or a free food pantry. Chicken or egg salad can be made ahead for sandwiches for lunch. Keep a supply of snacks in individual size bags. Large bags of chips, crackers, or cookies may become stale before they are finished.
An electric kettle turns itself off when boiled, and a hot cup of tea, cocoa, or instant coffee is ready without needing to use the stove. If brewed coffee is the preference, choose a model where you just pop in the pod of your choice and push a button. Children and grandchildren can plan days where they stop by and enjoy lunch with their family member, and a family dinner once a month helps to prevent or decrease loneliness and depression.
There are also Meals on Wheels services run by charities or Agency on Aging offices that can deliver a senior a free (or very low cost) fresh or frozen meal to be reheated. In addition, Meals on Wheels also allows the senior to be checked in on by the driver, as the volunteer delivery driver checks to ensure the senior is safe, healthy, and also provides some company. Find more details on getting Meals on Wheels.
If the home has an upstairs, make sure all railings are secure. Also put non-slip treads on those stairs. If climbing stairs is too risky, create a downstairs bedroom and bathroom. Close off the upstairs if not used to reduce heating and cooling bills.
Keeping a home as safe as possible allows older adults to remain independent for a much longer time. Independence staves off depression in senior citizens, but the flipside of independence can be loneliness. Follow the simple safety measures listed to keep your loved one safer and more secure in their own home, and also some companionship from services such as Meals on Wheels.