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It is very important that risk factors in a home are looked at and reduced if a senior wants to be successful and remain safely in their home. We all know the majority of seniors have a goal to remain home and making a home safe and accessible is very important. I often see inexpensive changes that result in a senior being able to stay in their home longer. When you think of the price of long term care, sometimes spending money on changes in a home can be most cost effective.  Falls are the main cause of serious injuries and accidental deaths in older people. There are a variety of factors that cause accidents in homes with aging loved ones.  


First, look at the outside of the home. There needs to be an even walkway and clear path to the home. Look to see if bushes and shrubs need trimmed for a clearer path. If steps are present are there sturdy hand rails?  Are the steps broken and uneven? Is the senior able to use steps or do they create a fall risk? If they are unsafe a ramp should be in place. A ramp is also easier for a senior who uses a cane, walker, or wheelchair. Also look at the lighting in the driveway, walkway, and entrance to the home. Good lighting increases visibility and reduces the risk of a fall. Check the door threshold height, as that can be a trip hazard. Look at the door knob, lock, key, mailbox, and peephole to see that they are user friendly for the senior.  


Second, look at the interior doors, stairs, and halls. Look at the width of the doorways and make sure that they accommodate walkers and wheelchairs, if necessary. Make sure the senior is aware if there are changes in floor levels. Check and clear hallways and stairs for any clutter. Determine if the stairs are safe for a senior to go up and down and if the hand rail is sturdy. Stair lifts are available if the upstairs of a home needs to be used and a senior is no longer safe to use the steps. Doorways can also usually be widened to make it easier to fit assistive devices through.  


Third, look at the bathroom. Is the mirror height appropriate? If a senior is now bound to a wheelchair it may need moved down so they can still see in it. Does shelving need moved for accessibility? Can the senior step in and out of the tub or shower? Walk-in shower units can be installed to avoid steps. Hand held shower heads along with a shower seat make it much easier for a senior who can’t stand for long periods of time to enjoy a thorough shower. They also make a shower seat that sits partly inside the shower and partly outside and you slide over the edge of the tub into the shower. Grab bars both in the shower and around the toilet are very important. Look at the toilet and see if the height needs adjusted and if the toilet paper is within reach. Toilet risers also make it easier for a senior to get from the sitting to standing position, along with grab bars installed on each side of the toilet. Also, look at the space and consider a caregiver being able to fit along with the senior if assistance is necessary.   


Fourth, look at the kitchen. Can the senior reach the items in the cupboards? If not, could the items in those cupboards be moved to a space that is accessible? Note the stove controls, are they at the front or rear of the stove and could a wheelchair bound senior reach if they are at the back. Is there counter space to prep food and beside the oven to place hot food from the oven? Is the lighting adequate? Replacing or adding lights in a home can make a huge difference for visibility.


Fifth, look at the living, dining, and bedrooms. Make sure these rooms are free from clutter, throw rugs, and electrical cords. If the senior insists on throw rugs then make sure there is rug tape or non-slip backing. If an electrical cord across the floor cannot be avoided, get a chord cover for it. Make sure the height of the bed, chair, and sofa allow for sitting to standing without difficulty. Lift chairs are available when this becomes too difficult.  A bed cane is very helpful for getting in and out of the bed. Electric beds and hand rails are also an option.


Sixth, look at the laundry room and determine if the senior can access the laundry. If not can the washer and dryer be moved to a level of the home that would work for the senior. If the laundry or other items needed for the senior are in the basement and it can’t be avoided, are the basement stairs stable and well lit?  


Make sure there are working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and is there a clear path to get out of the home? Unfortunately seniors don’t always hear, see, or move as well as they used to so it is very important that these things are in place and where a senior can hear them. There are fire alarms available that will vibrate your bed when danger arises if hearing the alarm is a concern. Fire alarms age so make sure you replace them regularly and check the batteries. If safety is a concern due to fall risk, hearing or vision loss, speed to evacuate the home or reach the phone, consider an emergency home response system. These are button systems that usually connect to a phone line that the senior can wear around their neck or on their wrist and can be pushed when any emergency or need arises. Once the button is pushed it will allow for the person to respond with their need/or send emergency personnel when needed. There are more and more options for this now without a home phone line so look into this if it would benefit you or a loved one.


At Western Illinois Home Health Care, we can provide a comprehensive assessment by our Senior Care Managers to identify and offer suggestions on you or your loved ones living situation, along with a tailored care plan to meet your needs if necessary.


Amanda Powell, BSW, is a Senior Care Manager at Western Illinois Home Health Care


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December 2016

by Amanda Powell

Aging in Place: Making Your Home Safe and Accessible