Vision loss is a serious home safety risk for elderly adults and a major concern for family caregivers. Roughly 6 million American seniors are either legally blind or live with impaired vision — a condition that has a bigger impact on seniors than many people realize. Studies have found that elderly vision loss is linked with lower self-reported quality of life, shorter lifespans, and increased vulnerability to physical, mental, and emotional health concerns.
Accidents at home are one of the biggest health risks for older adults affected by vision impairment. Falls are the leading cause of accidental death among American seniors, with most falls occurring at home. Visually impaired seniors are twice as likely to suffer a fall at home. They’re also at higher risk of other life-threatening accidents, including lacerations, burns, and medication overdoses.
As a family caregiver, the safety risks associated with vision loss may leave you feeling powerless. But nothing could be further from reality. While vision loss increases home safety risks for seniors, caregivers and other family members have the power to counteract these risks and protect elderly adults with vision problems.
Here are five home safety tips that you can use to make home a safer place for seniors coping with vision loss.
1. Eliminate Slipping & Tripping Hazards
Vision loss increases the likelihood of falls. But vision loss isn’t the main reason falls occur. Usually, they happen because of slippery floors, tripping hazards, or uneven surfaces. Vision loss makes it harder to spot these dangers. But if we eliminate these dangers in the first place, then we don’t need to worry about the fact that they’re hard to see.
There are a number of easy ways for caregivers to eliminate falls risks from seniors’ homes.
- Install non-stick flooring or apply non-stick coatings in the bathroom, kitchen, and tiled areas.
- Keep electrical cords out of walkways and areas they could be tripped over.
- Remove any rugs, the edges of which can be easily tripped over.
- Check for uneven/unstable areas, particularly steps. If any are found, have them repaired.
- Check railings on all stairways to ensure that they are secure and stable.
2. Take Advantage of Contrast & Color
A lot of homes are designed with soft palettes, meaning lots of light colors. While visually appealing, these color schemes are dangerous for visually impaired seniors. With so many light colors, it becomes hard to distinguish one object from another. That makes it all too easy for accidents to happen.
Smart use of contrast and bold colors can make the home a much safer place for elderly adults with poor vision. If walls are a lighter color, vision loss experts suggest using dark colors for bathroom towels, doorframes, countertops, and other objects that seniors use to orient or support themselves. Experts also suggest lining the edges of stairs with brightly colored tape. This way, it’s easy to see where each step ends.
3. Vision Loss-Friendly Medication Storage
The risk of medication mistakes is much higher when seniors can’t properly identify different medications. Caregivers and family members can help seniors reduce this risk through safer and smarter solutions for medication storage.
One of the best ways to do this is to re-label medications so that they are easier for the visually impaired to identify. Caregivers can use color-coded labels or stickers that use a touch-identification system (like braille). Another good strategy is to use a weekly or monthly pill organizer, so that medications are pre-sorted by someone with adequate vision.
4. Adequate Lighting & Glare Reduction
Poor lighting makes vision problems worse for elderly adults, increasing the risk of accidents. It’s important that seniors have adequate lighting in all areas of their home, no matter the time of day. That’s particularly true along stairways and walkways, where falls are most likely to occur. Caregivers will also want to ensure that lighting is adequate for potentially dangerous activities, like food prep and cooking.
Too much light can be just as dangerous, overwhelming the visual receptors of elderly adults. Use blinds or curtains to reduce overwhelming sunlight during the day, and try to avoid glossy, shiny, and reflective surfaces in the home.
5. Caregiver & Family Monitoring
Seniors are safer when they’re with a caregiver or a family member. If you can make sure that someone’s there to keep an eye out and lend a helping hand, the chances of a vision-related accident will decrease substantially.
Depending on your level of concern for your loved one’s safety, you might not need someone there at all times. But if your loved one’s vision or physical health has declined substantially, or if you’d prefer the peace of mind that comes with day-to-day monitoring, you will likely need outside support. You may wish to speak with family members to set up a drop-in schedule. Otherwise, it might be a good idea to contact a local home care agency about hiring a professional caregiver.