Home is Where the Heart is, But is it Safe for Seniors?

It’s familiar and it’s comfortable, but is it safe? A person’s home, as they say, is his/her castle; however, when it comes to personal safety for seniors, there comes a time when that home may have to be reevaluated, renovated or replaced.

The problem here is that seniors often dig in their heels and indignantly refuse to move wanting to retain their independence and not wanting to leave what they have known and loved for years for as long as possible. Fair enough! For family caregivers, the decision to move Mom/Dad away from their home can also be agonizing as it signals further mental or physical decline. Additionally, family caregivers are often left to deal with the senior’s home after a move (as a former co-caregiver, I well remember trying to find and work with a realtor to list my parent’s senior’s condominium unit – a more difficult process as the condo in question was located in Victoria, British Columbia while I was living in Edmonton, Alberta – 1.5 hours (by plane) or 15+ hours (by car) distant. Moving a senior, no matter how you do it, requires managing an inordinate amount of “stuff” likely gathered over the years as well as many significant personal memories.

Whether your aging parent continues to live at home locally or elsewhere, there are steps you can take to make his/her home more “senior-friendly”.

senior-home-safetyRemove throw rugs

It’s time to start thinking about functionality rather than decoration in a senior’s home. Unless these rugs have a rubberized backing, they can easily slide when someone steps on them – possibly resulting in an unexpected and unpleasant surprise for a senior.

Tuck away electrical cords

Electrical cords stretching across a living room can become a tripping hazard. Instead, clip these to the wall. On a related note, take a close look at Mom/Dad’s phone cord – is it also just laying loose?

Replace furniture

While very comfortable, cushioned couches may actually trap a senior who may not have the strength to stand back up again from the chair. Swap that favourite arm chair for a lift chair instead – these can be gradually lowered and raised, thus helping a senior to sit or stand. Excessive furniture can also hinder a senior’s path … if he/she is in a wheelchair, is there room to maneuver?

Install a stairlift

Upper and/or lower floors of a senior’s home can become inaccessible for seniors not able to tackle a set of stairs. Climbing up and walking down stairs can become tiring and unsafe (it’s easy enough for a senior to lose balance and fall either forward or backward on stairs). If nothing else, ensure that the stair railings are secure and/or paint the steps alternating colours (to help a senior distinguish between them).

Replace lighting

Old eyes don’t often see as well as they used to and vision can be blurred. With brighter lights (or entirely new light fixtures), you can help a senior better see what is ahead. Illuminating a hallway is important as more shadows may be cast in a narrow area.

Request “Call Display” for the telephone

A senior’s telephone can serve as a lifeline; however, it also invites unwanted calls from people trying to take advantage of a senior. With the “call display” feature, a senior can easily check the name and number of the caller before answering. Some telephones can even “announce” the name of the caller as well.

Mount grab bars in the bathroom

These are best placed around the toilet, the bathtub and in the shower. Wet bathroom floors can become a deathtrap for weak and/or frail seniors. You may also want to consider removing the bathroom mirror … seniors with dementia can become confused and alarmed to see another face looking back at them. While you are working on the bathroom, place a seat in the shower. Mom/Dad will feel far more secure showering when sitting down. A walk-in bathtub may also be an option. A door or panel on the side of the tub opens to allow for easier access inside; when closed, that door or panel is sealed shut by the water pressure.

Widen doorways

Doing this will benefit an aging parent using a wheelchair or walker. To comfortably roll a wheelchair through, a doorway should measure a minimum of 32 inches across. And, it may be enough to just be able to enter a room … are there any sharp corners involved? Those in wheelchairs need a little more space to turn.

Replace doorknobs

Typical round doorknobs can be difficult for older hands to grasp and turn. Instead, exchange these for levers which can be easily pushed down. Many faucet taps (including for the bathroom and kitchen sinks) can also be round. Change these as well.

Consider an exterior ramp

This would be, once again, for the benefit of wheelchair-bound seniors. Such ramps can be attached to the front, side or rear of a home and can even be built to double-back on themselves or circle around if space is limited.

Arrange for visitors

Whether you, a friend, a neighbor, or a paid homecare support worker stops in to check on your senior parents, these visits can help to monitor your parent’s health condition as well as provide some socialization as your parents may not be getting out as much as they might have before. In the case of family living at a distance, set up a webcam at Mom or Dad’s home. These devices are not that difficult to install and/or use, and can provide a friendly face and peace-of-mind for those family members who are unable to come visiting on a more regular basis.

With a few modifications, aging parents can remain in their homes for longer. Knowing that they are comfortable and safe can ease a caregiver’s mind significantly.

Written by Rick Lauber
Rick Lauber is a former co-caregiver, established freelance writer and author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians (Self-Counsel Press). Rick’s book is available for purchase at national Chapter’s bookstores and online.

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