How to Make Your Home Safer for an Elderly Loved One
As people age, they need more lighting, and obstacles or hazards should be cleared out of their way or made safe, says Donna Schempp, program director for Family Caregiver Alliance in San Francisco. Falls can be very dangerous for older adults and can result in a major injury. Some steps to take to keep an older adult safe:
- Anti-slip mats. These mats, often made of rubber or a similar material, fit under throw rugs to increase traction, greatly decreasing the chances of a fall. Of course, you can also solve the problem by simply removing throw rugs -- as long as you don't have slick, waxed wood floors, which also can be a hazard.
- Furniture bumpers. Clear plastic bumpers fit over sharp furniture corners to soften the edges. Alternatively, remove sharp-edged furniture from the room. Unsteady chairs should be replaced as well.
- Bins for obstacles. If you're used to leaving toys and other objects lying on the floor, you'll need to start picking them up. Pick a spot that's out of the way and set up a large basket to serve as a catchall for things that tend to end up on the floor.
- Good lighting. Not just the rooms in your house need to be well lit: Make sure walkways, hallways, and entryways are illuminated, too. Lighting should be bright but not harsh or blinding.
- Modifications for a wheelchair. If your new housemate uses a wheelchair (or may need one soon), check that the doorways and hallways of your home will be wide enough for her to get around. Wheelchairs require a minimum of 32 inches -- 36 inches is recommended. Hallways should be at least 36 inches wide. If possible, there should be extra floor space so a wheelchair can turn around. It takes about 60 inches of space for someone in a wheelchair to make a 180-degree turn.
- Door and window sensors. If she has Alzheimer's and tends to wander off, you may need either special door locks that will keep doors shut or chimes to alert you to her attempts to leave the house. Window sensors with remote alarms are also available.
- Special doorknobs and window pulls. Older adults may not have the hand or arm strength to open a door using a regular knob. Arthritis can rob even a relatively strong person of the ability to grasp something hard enough to turn it. Consider replacing conventional knobs with easier-to-use lever door handles -- or look into an automatic door opener that opens and closes with the touch of a button or by voice activation (around $1,500). Search the Internet by typing automatic door opener. You can also find products that make opening windows easier.
- Accessible shelving. As people get older, the simple act of bending down or reaching up can become an ordeal. If possible, put extra shelves in closets, pantries, or cabinets at heights an older adult can reach without a struggle. If she's in a wheelchair, or you anticipate she may be soon, adjustable brackets will enable you to change the height as needed.