Make Your House Safe for Visiting Seniors
Give older guests the VIP treatment by ridding your home of tripping hazards and other dangers
When your cousin brings her toddler to a family holiday gathering, you know it’s important to baby-proof your house. The same holds true when an older relative will be visiting.
Falls alone are responsible for more than 25,000 deaths among older people, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. Most of those accidents take place at home — a slip in the bathtub, a trip on an unanchored throw rug, a spill caused be a cat underfoot.
While you can’t do an entire aging-in-place home remodel before the holidays, “you can make your home a safer place to live” for older visitors, says Alexis Abramson, PhD, author of “Home Safety for Seniors: Tips for an Independent Life at Home.”
Here are her suggestions, room by room, for easy ways to senior-proof your home. Most safety products mentioned are available at home supply or discount department stores.
- Buy a safety seat or transfer bench for the bathtub. Either straddles the tub (two legs on the floor and two in the tub) and will allow an elderly guest to sit on one side and slide over to the other. Bathtub chairs are also available for people who are unsteady on their feet. “The seat should be at least 15 inches wide,” says Abramson. Buy a lightweight seat that’s easy to move.
- If your bathroom doesn’t have grab bars, you can buy an easy-to-install adjustable bar that clamps to the edge of the bathtub.
Related: Accident-Proof Your Bathroom
- The most welcome mat in your home is a non-slip one on the bottom of your tub. You also can use bathtub strips.
- Don’t use oily bath products if you’ll be sharing the tub or shower with your guest. These can leave behind a slippery residue.
- Someone with bad knees or hips will appreciate a toilet seat extender that raises the height of the seat. “Some models include arms to provide additional support when sitting on and getting up from the toilet seat,” says Abramson.
- Plug in night lights in each bedroom, in hallways and in bathrooms to provide a clear path for late-night bathroom visits. (Make sure there’s one in the kitchen, too.)
- Position lamps near guests’ beds. Leave flashlights with fresh batteries on nightstands to provide extra light.
- If your guest beds are on wheels, put them in the locked position.
- Make clear there’s no smoking in bedrooms.
Living room and family room
- Arrange furniture to create clear, easy-to-navigate paths throughout rooms. Put items that are low to the ground, such as magazine racks and coffee tables, out of the line of traffic to help prevent falls or bumping injuries, says Abramson.
- The National Safety Council recommends removing clutter, electrical cords, pet toys and other paraphernalia and anything else on the floor that might cause a fall.
- Use double-sided tape or non-stick carpet mesh to keep throw rugs in place. More than 6,800 people over the age of 65 are treated in the ER for injuries associated with loose rugs and runners, says Abramson.
- If the treads are bare, consider installing non-slip rubber stair treads for better footing. Make sure they’re securely attached with adhesive, staples or carpet tacks.
- Mark the edges of the stops or small changes in floor elevation with fluorescent adhesive tape for the length of the visit.
A special note about pets
A 2010 study in the Journal of Safety Research looking at a nationally representative sample of emergency room visits found more than 86,000 falls every year were linked to a cat or dog, most related to tripping over the animal. Your pet may be free to roam the rest of the year, but during a brief holiday visit by older relatives, consider confining him to one room.