Is Your Loved One’s Home Senior-Safe?
By Jean Donahue
tripped on a throw rug and broke her arm.
fell in the kitchen and hit the gas stove burner control and was overcome
trying to change a light bulb, the ceiling fixture started shooting out
blue fire causing her to jump, falling from the ladder and unable to turn
off the light switch. The house caught fire.
horrible incidents have actually happened to our elderly. Don't let
anything like this happen to your loved one when you can help prevent it.
Check your loved one's home for safety -- now and continually.
around the house. In each room, evaluate what is safe and what is not safe
for you and your loved one. Now, read the rest of this column and then
walk around your house again.
there changes needed that you haven't thought about? If there are, you
must get those things fixed right away so your loved one doesn't have an
accident that you could have helped prevent. This warning is not intended
to frighten, but you don't want to spend your life feeling guilty about
something you could have fixed.
walk through a typical house room by room for general ideas on safety.
I'll just use the most common rooms because the same criteria apply to the
rest of the house.
areas should have extra room and be free of obstacles. Make sure throw
rugs, runners and mats are fastened securely so no one will trip. Rooms
should be well lit with all electrical cords and outlets in good condition
-- no frayed cords or bare wires.
sure there are telephones in rooms used most frequently, and have a
portable phone you, as caregiver, can always carry throughout the house in
case of an emergency.
smoke and carbon monoxide detector alarms. Outlets and light switches
should not feel warm to the touch. They should be grounded to prevent
electrical shock. At night use low-voltage night lights so you won't
stumble over something or bump into a wall. All doors and windows should
open and close easily, and locks should be sturdy and easy to operate for
you and the frail elderly.
sure cooking and clean-up areas are well lit. A gas stove should have
pilot lights with an automatic cutoff in case the flame goes out. If it's
possible, shield stove knobs so they aren't easily or accidentally turned
on if someone falls or brushes against them (stove burns are one of the
most common injuries to the elderly).
should be an exhaust fan venting outside. The microwave should not be
above eye level so hot food can be removed without spilling. Small
appliances should be unplugged when not in use. Everything you use should
be in easy reach.
a step ladder or solid stool handy to stand on instead of using a chair
when you need something stored on a high shelf. Either lower the
temperature of the hot water heater or install an anti-scalding device.
Plumbers can help on this point.
non-skid mats or gripper strips on the standing area inside and in front
of the shower or bathtub. Install grab bars on the walls in the bathtub
and near the toilet. Outlets should be the type to protect against
electric shock. Install an anti-scalding device or turn down the hot water
heater temperature so your loved one won't be scalded if they slip and
accidentally turn up the hot water. Install a hand held shower head for
ease of use by the elderly.
sure there are sturdy handrails and stairs are well lit. Enough said.
today use a concept called Universal Design when they build a new home.
They realize America is aging quickly and intend to accommodate the
elderly. The basic principal is to design a home for the comfort and
livability for every person, whether they are young or old, physically
challenged or not, tall or short, big or small. Many existing homes are
being remodeled for specific needs of caregivers and their elderly.
universal design, kitchen shelves are lowered and have pull-down shelves.
Drawers are easy to access. Handles are larger and easier to grasp. Many
use cabinet doors with a glass front so elderly can easily see what's
inside. Instead of a standard stove, universal design uses a cook-top with
an oven at counter height. An anti-scalding device is always included to
lower the faucet water temperature.
the bathroom, universal design calls for fold-down shower seats, grab
bars, elevated toilets, an anti-scalding device and pocket doors (doors
that slide into the wall instead of awkwardly opening into a room).
are wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair, thresh-holds are
flush with the floor, lever handles are used, push-bars or U-shaped pull
handles are recommended. The front door has peep holes at two levels for
function and security.
outlets are placed at least 27 inches above the floor (no stooping!).
Lighting is sufficient for the given area and there is strong lighting in
every room. Light switches are rocker switches. Smoke detectors are
installed in every room.
researching this column I've decided that I need to do exactly what I am
asking you to do – walk around my house and make the improvements
suggested above. It would have been so much easier to take care of Mom and
Dad if I would have had wider bathroom doors, for example. I didn't
realize it then. The other doors were wide enough for wheelchairs but I
couldn't get them into the bathroom after they no longer could walk.