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Making a home safe for older residents

6th August 2019

Older people looking to stay independent face several challenges each day. This ranges from mobility, medical concerns, loneliness or simpler things like feeding your pet, but home safety should not be a concern you need to think about.

There are lots of ways you can make your home safer and this ranges from installing stair lifts and specially made mobility baths to improving the lighting around your property and keeping your home tidy. A safe home is a healthy home and this guide looks at ways you and your family can keep a home safe for older people.

Kathy Lawrence, the editor at When They Get Older, says that before you start making big changes it is worth remembering that a home is often shared by people with different challenges.

“Rearranging the layout of a house or a room could be a real help to someone with mobility issues but could make problems for someone living with dementia. Taking a softly, softly approach to adaptations in the home will help you to discover what works best for both. And working with the people who live there, so that they agree with changes, helps them to maintain independence and control of their lives.”

As each room in a home presents its own challenges and dangers, this piece takes you around different rooms and shares helpful safety tips you can follow to make your home safe. In as little as five minutes you can make a home safer for older adults. Look at the interactive images for the different rooms to see what you can do to make a home safe for older residents.

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Kitchen

The kitchen is the hub of the home for a lot of families as it is where you gather for meals, but as the above interactive image shows, it is also the place in the home where many older people suffer injuries.

This is why it is important to know how to make the kitchen as safe as possible for older adults and to identify the tasks people struggle with that might become a hazard in time.

Caron Sprake, an eldercare blogger who shares her thoughts on the Caron Cares site, has years of hands-on experience helping to make older people’s lives easier and she has shared some great tips you should follow.

“Items such as the kettle, is it difficult to lift when full of boiling water? Would a kettle tipper help or maybe a one cup boiler? Are plugs tricky to pull out due to arthritic fingers? There are various affordable aids to help or maybe using technology such as Alexa may help to ‘turn off the lights Alexa’.”

Feeling as independent as possible within your own home is vital whatever your level of mobility, says Jane Slade, founder of the retirement property website Retiremove. She believes this can start with making alterations to your kitchen.

“If you are designing a kitchen or bathroom from scratch then install low-level cabinets and sinks, especially if the user is wheelchair-bound or needing to use a walker. Avoid installing cupboards with shelves which can be difficult to access.

“Drawers are much better – as is a drawer dishwasher. Keep plug sockets at an accessible-height – not too low or too high. And install an eye-level cooker with a slide-away door so you can get up close and avoid burning yourself when you extract a hot dish. An induction hob is also safer to use than gas rings.”

Bob's Handyman Services have a lot of experience when it comes to altering homes and adapting them for older adults and they recommend you consider the following:

  • To avoid squatting and leaning when washing, install a pedestal to raise the level of the washing machine. That’s how older people can avoid knee and waist pain while handling ordinary household chores. 
  • When you are springing into a renovation project, use laminate flooring or low-pile carpeting, simply because it’s easier for older adults to walk on. They are a suitable flooring option for people with mobility issues. Their low-maintenance, durability, slip-resistance, and affordable price make them the preferred choice for most retirees willing to spruce up their home.

Bedroom

One of your main focuses when making a home safe for older adults should be the bedroom. Most of the major tips can be implemented with very little effort or expense.

Simple things like ensuring there isn’t clutter lying around the room, electric cables are not trip hazards, mats and rugs are flat on the floor to avoid a potential obstacle and there is furniture which offers support.

There are other changes that you can make that might take a little bit longer to achieve such as buying a new bed if the bed is too high or using risers to increase the height of the bed if it is too small.

Here are some other considerations older people or family members should consider when making the bedroom safer:

  • A smoke detector is installed near a bedroom
  • Drawer handles offer easy access
  • There is a lamp or a torch close to the bed should an older person need to get up in the middle of the night.

Hallway and staircase

Many older people have trouble using stairs, especially if they suffer from mobility problems. Falls are one of the top causes for injuries for seniors, so using stairs as safely as possible is vital.

There are many reasons why older people fall on stairs and these range from reduced vision, weakness, drowsiness, loss of balance or loss of movement in the legs. While some people may ask why older residents don’t just downsize, for many, it means moving out of the home they love and have lived in for years.

A more sensible approach could be to look at stairlift solutions as this means you can stay in your family home.

Antonia runs a UK interior and lifestyle blog called Tidy Life and she agrees that stairlifts are a great option when it comes to making stairs safer for older people.

“My parents benefited from having a stair lift installed in their home. As well as helping them up and down the stairs, they also found it handy to send items up and down to one another when required! 

“My dad sadly passed away recently, but he would keep a walking stick or frame at the top of the stairs and another one at the bottom for convenience and he also liked to have a 'grabber' that helps you pick things up off the floor without having to bend down.”

Bathroom

The bathroom can be a hazardous place for older people, especially for those suffering from mobility problems.

They pose a risk of slippery surfaces, while low toilet seats and insufficient grab bars and towel racks can make life difficult for the older generation.

The Fantastic Plumbers team from London shared some of their top tips to make your bathroom safer and more mobile-friendly.

  • The installation of grab bars and rails is both an affordable option and will minimise the risk of falls.
  • Replace your bathroom tiles with a non-slip surface. However, the elderly could compromise and cover the floor with non-slip rugs, although you need to make sure to choose one with anti-skid backing. This type of mat fits the lower range of cost while at the same time ensures your peace of mind. Also, you have a better chance to assure safer surroundings by using shower mats, a non-slip spray, traction slips, non-skid tape, while keeping the floor dry and clean.
  • When the older adults use the toilet, blood pressure changes, knees hurt, waist and balance issues arise to reduce mobility and eventually lead to the need for special attention. If older people find it difficult to get up and sit down, you should install a higher (19’) toilet seat to make the bathroom both comfortable and safe.
  • Install a walk-in shower to prevent tripping over the edge.
  • Remove thresholds and saddles throughout your home to save older people from tripping. If impossible to fully remove, a great solution would be the installation of an anti-slip ramp for smooth transitioning doorways and threshold.
  • If the elderly suffers from arthritis, change the faucet with a lever-style handle. It’s a comparatively easy-to-install and inexpensive improvement that allows the elder to operate via the touch of a finger.

Lounge

Although the lounge is one of the larger spaces in a home, it can still present hazards for older people, particularly those who struggle to move around.

Something simple like an end table could block a wheelchair or a rug becoming a tripping hazard for people with mobility issues.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can avoid some of these pitfalls as Retiremove’s content editor Jane Slade explains.

“Chair raisers are excellent to enable the user to get in and out of seats unaided. And reclining chairs are best of all if you can afford one.

“Replace carpet with cushioned non-slip flooring which is easy to clean and more important enables wheelchairs and walkers to run smoothly and evenly. Carpets and rugs should be inset into the floor if necessary and have enough space around them so the user can avoid them.

“Lighting that simulates daylight is best for older people not only so they can see better but keep their mood more uplifted. Seek advice from your ophthalmologist/optician who may prescribe certain lighting to those suffering macular degeneration or other eye conditions.

“Consider up lights and downlights in the sitting room which can be more directional and atmospheric and ensure plug sockets are close to lamps and you can’t trip over the chords.”

Garage

While garages aren’t seen as a particular accident-prone place for a lot of homeowners, they can become dangerous if they’re not properly maintained.

Making a garage safe for older people is very important and it shouldn’t be skipped when looking at creating a safe home for older people.

Slips and fires are just some of the common accidents that occur which is why it is important to keep on top of the clutter that can amass in a garage. For security, it is important to check that the garage door is shut properly when you are not in there, while gardening tools that are being kept here should be safely put away so they can’t fall and hurt anyone.

What else can you do to make a home safer for older people?

Security

Older people with mobility problems should look to update the security of their home, especially if it is an older home that hasn’t had its security updated.

The team at My Handyman Services has a variety of suggestions to make an older persons home safe and secure.

  • To prevent anxiety, it’s best to install a self-locking mechanism, such as deadlock, paddle-type door handle etc.
  • Install a wide-angle peephole rather than the standard door viewer. Make sure to match the height of the person using it. This way, he or she will have a better chance of preventing burglary.
  • Install motion-sensing lights around the windows and doors. These will switch lights on as something moves. This way the homeowners can ask for help and call the police in no time in case of an uninvited guest in front of the property.
  • Mailboxes can be an easy target for thieves looking to grab personal data, such as your full name, ID, credit card number etc. Usually, the retirees tend to heavily rely on mail. If you don’t want burglars sniffing around, move your post box as close as possible to your front door. Make sure that the mailbox is well-secured and call a locksmith to fit a keylock.

There is also new technology that can be set up in your home and can help those of you with limited mobility.

Antonia from Tidy Away Today, says, “In recent times my parents were looking into getting an alarm set up which would go through to a call centre, should they fall over.”

Buy gadgets

There are lots of gadgets that you can buy to help you around your home, and these help you stay independent in older age. There are now gadgets that can help you in the kitchen, garden, garage and throughout the house.

Kathy Lawrence from When They Get Older, says that small changes that these gadgets can make often make big differences. She adds, “Finding gadgets to help with the little chores, like opening jars, reaching for the remote, or doing a bit of weeding in the garden, can help people with weakened muscles and arthritis, for example, to keep living life without major interventions.”

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.