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Senior Home Safety

How to Make a Home Safe for Elderly Adults

By , Contributing Writers
92% helpful
Grandfather posing with grandchildren

The ideal home for the care of elderly or disabled persons is on one level (ground floor). Having more than one floor is all right as long as there is an elevator or other approved lift device. The ideal care home is laid out so that the caregiver and the person in care can see each other from other rooms.

Safety

For the safest home, follow as many of these steps as possible:

  • Remove any furniture that is not needed.
  • Place the remaining furniture so that there is enough space for a walker or wheelchair. This will avoid the need for an elderly or disabled person to move around coffee tables and other barriers. Move any low tables that are in the way.
  • Once the person in your care has gotten used to where the furniture is, do not change it.
  • Make sure furniture will not move if it is leaned on.
  • Make sure the armrests of a favorite chair are long enough to help the person get up and down.
  • Add cushioning to sharp corners on furniture, cabinets, and vanities.
  • Make chair seats 20” high. (Wood blocks or a wooden platform can be placed under large, heavy furniture to raise it to this level.)
  • Have a carpenter install railings in places where a person might need extra support. (Using a carpenter can ensure that railings can bear a person's full weight and will not give way.)
  • Place masking or colored tape on glass doors and picture windows.
  • Use automatic night-lights in the rooms used by the person in your care.
  • Clear fire-escape routes.
  • Provide smoke alarms on every floor and outside every bedroom.
  • Place a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
  • Think about using monitors and intercoms.
  • Place nonskid tape on the edges of stairs (and consider painting the edge of the first and last step a different color from the floor).
  • It is easier to walk on thin-pile carpet than on thick pile. Avoid busy patterns.
  • Be sure stairs have even surfaces with no metal strips or rubber mats to cause tripping.
  • Remove all hazards that might lead to tripping.
  • Tape or tack electrical and telephone cords to walls.
  • Adjust or remove rapidly closing doors.
  • Place protective screens on fireplaces.
  • Cover exposed hot-water pipes.
  • Provide enough no-glare lighting—indirect is best.
  • Place light switches next to room entrances so the lights can be turned on before entering a room. Consider “clap-on” lamps beside the bed.
  • Use 100 to 200-watt lightbulbs for close-up activities (but make sure lamps can handle the extra wattage).

NOTE: An 85-year-old needs about three times the amount of light a 15-year-old needs to see the same thing. Contrasting colors play a big part in seeing well. As much as possible, the color of furniture, toilet seats, counters, etc., should be different from the floor color.

  • Plan for extra outdoor lighting for good nighttime visibility, especially on stairs and walkways.
  • If possible, install a carbon monoxide (CO) detector that sounds an alarm when dangerous levels of CO are reached. Call the American Lung Association, (800) LUNG USA, for details.
  • Work out an emergency escape plan in case of fire.

NOTE: If the person in your care is on life support equipment, install a backup electrical power system and have a plan of action in case the power goes out.

Comfort and Convenience

  • For persons who are frail or wheelchair-bound, put in automatic door openers.
  • For a person with a wheelchair or a walker, allow at least 18-24” clearance from the door on landings.
  • Plan to leave enough space (a minimum of 32” clear) for moving a hospital bed and wheelchair through doorways.
  • To widen doorways, remove the molding and replace regular door hinges with offset hinges. Whenever possible, remove doors.
  • Put lever-type handles on all doors.
  • If a person who is disabled must be moved from one story to another, install a stair elevator.