Tips for Making a Home Safe for Seniors
If you look after elderly loved ones, make their home and yours safer with these simple steps to avoid falls, slips and other dangerous accidents.
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.
MoMo Productions/Getty Images
Scary Statistics for Seniors
Here’s a shocking statistic: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 36 million U.S. adults over the age of 65 are injured in falls. That means one in four seniors will fall during the course of a year. Many sustain major injuries, to the point that falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among seniors.
If you’re looking after aging loved ones in your home or theirs, there are preventative steps you can take to reduce the risk of household falls. Plus, you can make small adjustments to household items seniors may have trouble with. If you’re a senior yourself, these improvements and adjustments that can make your environment safer.
Fix Those Trouble Spots
That sticky window or loose banister you’ve been meaning to fix may be an annoyance for you. But for the senior in your home, it could be a barrier or a risk. ComForCare, which provides in-home caregiver services for seniors wishing to age in place, shares the following tips to correct potential fall risks at home:
For people with limited mobility or who prefer to shower while seated, a handheld showerhead is a terrific help. Even better: A handheld showerhead on a sliding rail that allows for individual adjustment. But most of those rails weren’t meant to double as grab bars, and using them to get in and out of the shower could result in a disaster.
Look for an ADA-compliant grab bar with a sliding handheld showerhead. When installing grab bars, make sure they can pass the “yank test” — pull on the bar with all your strength so you’ll know it will hold up when it’s really needed.
Navigating narrow doorways is tough for someone using a wheelchair or walker. Doorways can be widened, but it’s a complex and costly job. An easier solution is to replace your existing hinges with expandable offset door hinges. They’re designed to swing the door clear of the opening. Most add two inches of clearance to the door passageway.
It’s easier for stiff or arthritic hands to press flat, rocker-style switches than manipulate toggles. Rocker switches feature a big on/off plate that you can operate with a finger, a knuckle or even an elbow.
Some rocker switches are illuminated to make them easy to find day or night. These great little inventions use a tiny bit of electricity from the circuit they’re on to light a small LED or neon bulb, and they ‘re as easy to install as regular switches.
Easy Cabinet Pulls
Arthritis and stiff joints make grabbing small round knobs on cabinet drawers and doors difficult, too. Replace these small knobs with C- or D-shaped pulls, which let you tuck your fingers around them, making it easier to open the door or drawer.
In their kitchen or yours, adding new pulls and handles is a quick, inexpensive way to update the space while making it more comfortable and convenient to use over the long term.
Extended Stair Rails
The handrails for exterior stairs typically end at the bottom step. But stepping off the bottom step (or preparing to step up on it) is actually the point where someone is the most off balance and likely to fall.
Simple Rail handrail kits from Simplified Building make it easy for DIYers to build an extended handrail that fits any stairway. The kits use Kee Klamp pipe fittings and come with all the components you need (fittings, pipe, connectors and railings) at reasonable prices.
Raised Washer and Dryer
Put a pedestal under your front-loading washer and dryer, and you’ll be doing a big favor for your senior loved one — and yourself. Pedestals raise front-loading laundry machines 12 to 15 inches above the floor, saving lots of strain on backs and knees. Many provide additional storage as well. Pedestals are available for most front-loading machines, or you can make your own.
‘Invisible’ Grab Bars
Sometimes people are reluctant to add chrome or white grab bars because they think it will make their home look institutional. But you can find stylish and sturdy grab bars in many shapes, sizes and finishes. Some, like those in the elegant Invisia Collection, serve double duty as towel racks, toilet paper holders, corner shelves and more.
Door Levers, Not Knobs
Gripping and twisting a doorknob can be hard for people with arthritis or dexterity loss in their hands. Lever handles for exterior and interior doors solve that problem. You simply press down on the lever to release the door latch without gripping anything. An elbow or forearm will work too, which is nice when you’re carrying things.
Many lever handles are reversible, so they’ll fit a right-handed or left-handed door. (Handedness is determined by which side the door hinges are on when you stand outside the door as it swings away from you into the room.) But check the handle requirements before you buy so you get the right handle for your situation.
Rolling Kitchen Cart
A sturdy rolling cart is great in any kitchen, but it’s especially helpful for older cooks. It’s a convenient prep center. Models with drawers or shelves allow your beloved senior chef to store frequently used items and roll it around so their tools are always close at hand.
And as long as they don’t lean on it for support, a rolling cart can be extremely useful for someone with diminished strength or dexterity to ferry items to and from the table. This way, there’s no risk of injury or dropping things.
Exterior Grab Bars
Grab bars aren’t just helpful in the bathroom. They’re also useful near exterior doors, inside and out.
For people who are unsteady on their feet, the simple act of opening a door can be difficult. A grab bar gives them something to hang onto at entrances and steps around the house or the garage. And not all grab bars look institutional. These robust handles from FOYO have a trendy steampunk look and can be mounted horizontally, vertically or diagonally.
Thick pile carpeting over a thick pad is the worst for anyone unstable on their feet, because it increases the likelihood of tripping and falling. It also makes it more difficult to push and maneuver wheelchairs, walkers and vacuums.
To make getting around easier, consider installing low-profile carpet, like “level loop” carpet. It features a pile height of no more than 1/2-in. and a 1/4-in. (10-pound density) pad.
Long hallways can be real challenges to people with limited mobility, which is why so many senior care centers have continuous handrail systems. Consider adding the same safety feature at home.
LED Light Bulbs
The average home has 40 light bulbs. Changing a burned-out bulb often involves climbing a ladder or step stool — or worse, standing on a chair — and risking a nasty fall. If you replace those light bulbs with long-lasting LEDs, there’s a good chance they’ll never need to be changed again in your senior homeowner’s lifetime.