A quarter of Americans over 65 years old will experience a fall this year. Over three million of them will be hospitalized due to fall injuries. This means if you reduce fall risk through home modifications in your or your loved one’s home, you can drastically improve their overall safety.
Modifying your loved one’s environment may be needed for a variety of reasons — trouble with stairs after a hip replacement, changes in their walk due to Parkinson’s or a previous stroke, or trouble with vision. Many people don’t like thinking about changing their loved one’s home because the home is exactly that: a place of their own they’ve created.
But by being proactive and implementing a few minor changes around the house, you can continue to keep them in control while aging in place. Changing small aspects of their home can greatly increase their safety or give you peace of mind that your loved one is at home safe.
Today we discuss some of the simple home modifications you can start doing now to prevent injuries and maintain your loved one’s independence. Removing fall risks, changing thresholds, and making sure their vision is optimized are just a few ways to improve home safety.
Home Modification 1 – Remove Obstacles
It’s no secret that as we age, we aren’t as agile or nimble as we once were. What would normally be a minor trip or slip can turn into a major fall resulting in serious injury. This is why removing obstacles from your loved one’s home is the first of several home modifications that you should be considering.
Falls are extremely common in the aging population and can cause a whole host of problems because of them. Breaking a hip or leg, spraining an ankle, or hitting your head are all risks of a fall.
Removing clutter around the house that could potentially trip you or a family member is an easy way to reduce fall risk. Tidying up and making sure clothes, shoes, and bags are put away rather than sitting on the floor in a hallway or bathroom clears up your space.
If they have pets (or visiting grandchildren), making sure toys are put away after use is another way to keep their path clear. Having baskets or bins to easily collect these items is an easy way to make sure everything has a storage space that’s out of the way when not in use. Browse some other simple caregiving hacks if you are into quick fixes like that.
Something you may not have thought of as a tripping hazard is area rugs. Especially thick ones that change the level of the ground. If you think about it, you’ve probably accidentally tripped up on the edge of a rug a time or two.
Removing rugs can help reduce falls by removing an unnecessary change in the flooring or alternatively, be sure they are taped down. This leads to our next tip — reducing threshold and floor changes.
Home Modification 2 – Reduce Changes in Thresholds (if possible)
Take a minute and think about how many times you have to change levels to get into your home. Do you have stairs on the front porch or in the garage? Do you have to step over a threshold in the doorway?
How about once you get inside? Do you have to walk upstairs to your bedroom or to get to your bathroom? And do you have to step into your shower or bathtub?
You might discover you have many more threshold changes and steps than you thought and more than likely, this is quite the same at your loved one’s home.
Some changes are difficult or impossible to make. You may not have the room or budget to add a ramp to the front steps or garage. Sometimes enlisting the help of neighbors and friends can reduce the work and cost of building a small ramp.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has certain guidelines for building a ramp. A few of these guidelines are:
- You have to allow one foot for every inch of rise in the ramp
- The ramp should be at least 36 inches wide
- There should be a flat landing space at the top of the ramp
These are just a few of the guidelines they recommend to create a safe and usable ramp for someone unable to use stairs, including someone in a wheelchair.
Another area to consider is the bathroom. Several companies can convert a tub or shower into what’s called “zero entry”. A zero entry bathroom or zero entry home eliminates the need for steps or large thresholds by making modifications to the entryway or shower area.
If your loved one(s) live in a two-story home and the bedroom is on the second floor, a non-construction option would be to move them into a room on the first floor (if possible). Having everything they need on one level eliminates stairs as a fall risk.
Home Modification 3 – Bathroom Safety
In addition to removing thresholds into a shower or bathtub, there are a wide variety of changes you can do to improve bathroom safety.
Installing handles or grab bars on the wall can help with safely sitting down and standing up from the toilet. Placing handles in the shower will help you or your loved one stay steady while standing in a wet and soapy environment.
There are also no-slip adhesives you can place in the shower itself to reduce the risk of slipping in the shower. These can be stickers or a mat that helps your feet grip in the shower.
You can also install an elevated toilet or purchase a seat to elevate the toilet. This reduces how far you have to bend down to sit on the toilet — making it easier to get up afterwards.
Home Modification 4 – Shed Some Light
Increasing lighting throughout a home can make a world of difference when it comes to safety. By properly illuminating hallways, bedrooms, and bathrooms — you’re more likely to see any obstacles in your way.
This can be done by increasing the number of lights or lamps in their home or replacing the current bulbs with a brighter light bulb.
Nightlights are another great way to improve safety in the home. Placing them in the bathroom and hallway will help your loved one make their way during those middle-of-the-night bathroom visits. You can choose a light that stays on continuously, one that turns on only when it’s dark, or one that’s motion activated.
Extra Home Safety Tips
We’ve covered several ways you can improve the safety of your environment by adding or replacing certain things in the home. Another way to improve safety is to improve your vision, hearing, and traction.
Most people start needing reading glasses at some point and this eventually turns into needing glasses all the time. Making sure prescriptions are up-to-date ensures that vision is top notch. Your loved one will be able to see steps, rugs, and tiny pets more easily if their vision is properly corrected.
Making sure they clean their glasses regularly will also help with vision. You can use a cleansing spray and cloth, or simply run some warm soapy water over them once a day will keep them nice and clear.
Along with vision, you want to make sure your or your family member’s hearing is checked once a year. If they’re hearing impaired due to age or other factors, wearing hearing aids will make sure you can hear smoke alarms, oven timers, and the microwave.
If an elderly couple is living at home together, having proper hearing will help with communication in case of an emergency. For example, if one person falls in the shower or bathroom — they may need to call out for help.
Wearing properly fitting shoes will help them move around their home more easily. They are more likely to slip and fall if they are in their bare feet or only wearing socks, so try and find a few comfy pairs of house shoes that have traction on the bottom.
Try finding shoes with a closed back that keep their shoes in place rather than slip ons.
In addition to shoes, being evaluated for a cane or walker can increase their home safety. Adding extra footing with a cane can keep you balanced and on the move longer.
Aging in Place: Being Proactive is Key
You may be reading this and nodding your head to some of these interventions as things you should do now either for yourself or a loved one. You may also think you don’t need to do any of these interventions as you or your family member haven’t had any falls or injuries at home.
There’s no magic moment that tells you to start changing your environment to keep you safe. This makes it difficult to know when to start these changes. But it’s safe to say preventing accidents or modifying thresholds before they prove to be a problem can be extremely useful.
Here is a checklist from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that goes over many of the things discussed. You can do a quick assessment of your home or your loved one’s home to see where a potential hazard could be.
Identifying these areas can help you plan for home modifications — especially if it will require a budget to create. It can also show you simple ways to instantly make your home safer for everyone.
You can also talk with your family and healthcare provider to assess your mobility and strength as a way to help make decisions about home modifications. The CDC has various screening methods your healthcare provider can use to help look for signs that small changes to your home might be useful.