Safety in the Home

by Karen Flores, JD

A large number of seniors are able to successfully manage living in their own house, apartment, condo, or mobile home for many years. Most senior citizens would prefer to remain living in their home for as long as possible.  Being in the familiar surroundings of their home can enhance their quality of life and promote a more positive outlook.

Sometimes only minor adjustments in the home are needed to accommodate a senior’s changing physical needs. However, when the aging process results in more severe impairment of mobility, memory, hearing, or vision, the home may become an increasingly hazardous place to live unless more major modifications to the home are made. Various hazards in the home can be identified and either minor or major adjustments made to make the home a safer place to live and reduce the likelihood of injury.

One of the most common causes of injury to senior citizens is falling.  Falls can result from a loss of balance or from encountering an environmental hazard in the home. Tripping over a loose rug is a common cause of falls. Rugs in the home should be removed or securely taped to the floor, especially if the resident uses a cane or a walker.  Rugs should be checked often to ensure that they are securely fastened.  In addition, clutter obstructing  the flow of traffic between rooms should be removed, and any cords stretched over walk ways should be re-routed. Bathtubs and showers should be equipped with handrails and non-skid mats, plus a handrail can be installed around the commode.  Stairways should also have accessible railings and should remain clear of clutter .

Proper lighting in the home is also an important safety consideration. Night lights can be plugged into outlets in rooms frequented at night, and a flashlight can be kept by the bed.  Brighter light bulbs can be used to increase illumination in dimly-lit areas, especially stair ways.  There should be light switches at both the top and bottom of stairways. Additional light fixtures can be installed to brighten dark rooms, hallways, and other traffic areas.

Besides making safety modifications to the home, there are other ways seniors can maximize their safety in the home.  Seniors should adopt the habit of rising slowly after sitting or lying down to help avoid dizziness and the loss of balance.  An alarm device can be worn to enable the senior to alert someone of an emergency if they are unable to get to the telephone.  Shoes with sufficient traction can be worn to avoid slipping.  Yearly eye exams can ensure that the proper glasses are worn and that vision problems are diagnosed. Telephone numbers for the Police, Fire Department, and a trusted neighbor can be posted near the telephone.

Family members and friends can also provide valuable  assistance to senior citizens to promote their ability to remain in the home.  Frequent visits or phone calls to check on them and assistance with household chores, errands, and shopping can be very helpful.  Administering their medication or setting up pill boxes can ensure that their medication is safely and accurately taken.  Arranging for services such as Meals on Wheels, transportation programs, and cleaning services can also prolong the time seniors can remain living in their home.

Assisted Living Facilities and Nursing Home placement should be considered if a senior becomes unable to manage in their home on their own.  However, enabling a senior to remain in their home for as long as possible is an achievable goal as long as certain safety modifications are made when necessary.  Hopefully this information can help families make some fairly simple modifications to enable their loved ones to be happy in the safe environment of their own homes.

Karen Flores is a  Part-time Staff Attorney for the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors and the Mid-America Pension Rights Project.

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