How to elder-proof your home
Tips to reduce risk, boost confidence and comfort
Making your home safer for seniors — or anyone with balance and mobility challenges — should not only focus on reducing fall hazards but also include making it easier for people to navigate a space confidently. Elder-proofing shouldn’t feel shameful or sad — it’s really a way to reduce worry and enhance quality of life.
Simple things can have big safety benefits
One in four older adults has a fall each year, for reasons ranging from balance difficulties, the side effects of medications, dementia, general weakness, poor vision — even badly fitting or slippery-soled footwear.
The AARP offers some easy ways to help reduce the risk of slips and tumbles, including:
- Using rubber-backed bathmats
- Putting nonskid treads on steps
- Keeping steps clear of clutter
- Applying nonslip wax to floors
- Clearing away or taping down electric cords
- Removing small, low pieces of furniture such as footstools and end tables
- Adding grab bars in the shower and near the toilet (and consider installing a walk-in shower, if possible)
Protecting people with dementia
If dementia is an issue, you still want to protect against falls, but, depending on the stage of the disease, may also have to address challenges such as reduced senses of vision, smell and hearing. Your loved one may also experience confusion, lack of judgment and a desire to wander, especially around sundown or late at night.
The Alzheimer’s Association has a free, comprehensive guide to home safety for people with dementia. The Association’s tips include:
- Removing stove knobs
- Using appliances with auto-shutoff features
- Placing deadbolt locks either high or low on exterior doors to make it difficult for the person to wander out of the house
- Keeping medications in a locked drawer or cabinet
- Securing poisonous substances such as cleaning supplies, paint and fuels
- Safely stowing potentially dangerous items such as kitchen knives, tools and equipment such as lawn mowers and weed trimmers
Dealing with the dark
Think about contrasts, clutter and confusion when elder-proofing a living space, especially if dementia is an issue.
Make sure hallways, closets, stairwells and corners are brightly lit. People with dementia may perceive frightening figures in shadows and in reflections, too. Big wall mirrors can be very difficult to process for people with dementia, vision or spatial problems.
Pale paint on walls that contrasts with the floor makes it easier for people to decipher the size and shape of a room when they have limited vision or dementia. Busy patterns on walls and furniture may be confusing. Keeping physical and sensory clutter to a minimum overall is important. Those with dementia or visual perception problems can really struggle to make sense of a space that is filled with visual noise.
Dark area rugs can look like a deep hole in the floor that needs to be stepped over or around. Bright rugs, on the other hand, can act as visual clues showing the location of room entrances. Just make sure any floor coverings are rubber-backed or otherwise secured to the floor and do not have curled edges. Area rugs may not be appropriate for some elders, especially those using canes or walkers, so use your best judgment here and err on the side of caution.
Develop a personal plan
The above are tips that will work for almost everyone, but you also need to address the specific issues affecting your loved ones. Your healthcare provider can help you to precisely identify risks and develop a plan to manage them when you are elder-proofing a home.
You may also wish to ask your health professional about prevention strategies such as physical activity targeted at increasing balance and mobility skills. Stopfalls.org, the website of the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence, noted that 35% of people over the age of 65 do not participate in any leisure physical activity, which can reduce the risk of a fall and also makes it harder for individuals to recover after a fall.
SafeBee® Top Three:
1: Focus on reducing fall hazards, but also look for ways to help people navigate a space confidently
2: Think about increasing contrast while reducing clutter and confusion when elder-proofing a home
3: Consider asking a health professional about physical activities that can help improve balance and mobility skills