Simple Changes To Make Your Home Safe As You Get Older
August 31, 2020
Many homeowners are now doing renovations since changing their work place to a home or school office. Some have made upgrades while others cleaned out their non-essentials to increase their living space or storage. But how many have given much thought about accessibility or safety in the home so they may age in their homes? Here are some simple changes you can make.
More than one in four people older than age 65 fall each year and only half of older adults can live independently after an injurious fall. It may be worth considering what can you can do to prevent falls from happening in your home.
On One Foot
Many adaptations can be made to prevent falls from happening, such as adding something to hold on to that is stable and sturdy when you’re on one foot. Yes, on one foot! When you walk up steps or step over a tub, you are on one foot. Safety modifications for areas where you are on one foot include adding railings on both sides of a staircase, grab bars to a front step home entrance or threshold, and grab bars in a tub/shower.
Be sure to stay away from clamp-on grab bars to tub. These are not recommended, as in most cases they are not used properly or checked for fit often, so they can loosen and actually cause a fall.
Entering Your Home
Ideally, no steps or a ramp would be best at the entrance to a home. But even a door threshold without steps can be tricky. Even if there is no step, independently managing this barrier can be challenging.
If a door threshold height is greater than ¾ of an inch, consider a beveled or portable threshold ramp as it can be difficult to manage a wheelchair or wheeled walker over even this small height.
The width of the doorway is also something to consider. If widening a doorway is too expensive, an inexpensive fix can be updating the type of hinge. Assess if a swing-clear hinge is feasible, which allows for maximum clear width of an opening.
Preventing Falls Inside the Home
There are more inexpensive changes that can be made to prevent falls in the home. Night lights can be added to hallways, to paths from bedroom to bathroom or to stairways. Light switches at top and bottom of stairs also are helpful.
Remove throw rugs, especially in the bathroom, or path to the bathroom. If rugs are a must, secure them and look as you step, so you do not trip.
Another fall risk, unfortunately, is our fur babies. In fact, 88 percent of pet owners trip and fall over their pets. Crates or baby gates for pets can be helpful in containing your pet while you are working in the kitchen, where they may go unnoticed.
Moving outlets to heights of three to four feet from the floor may be helpful, as bending over can challenge our balance. Extension cords or long cables also can pose a trip hazard, so removing or securing them to a wall is recommended.
In the Kitchen
Along with bathrooms, kitchens can be a high-accident area. There are a lot of kitchen renovations happening that can be very expensive. But there are some gadgets out there that can be helpful in keeping us safe in our homes.
Cupboard knobs can cause some extra stress on joints and may be difficult to grab. D-shaped pulls are recommended for ease of access, but be sure they do not form a “T” as this type of handle can catch on clothing.
Cut-resistance gloves, cool-touch oven rack guards or easy-pour electric kettles are all helpful kitchen tools to keep us safe from burns or cuts when hands may not be quite as strong or coordinated as they once were. Or maybe just as a preventive measure!
There are some useful memory aids in the kitchen too, such as an automatic stove shut-off device or devices to shut off the stove if there is no motion in the kitchen for too long. Some stoves can also be set to lock for periods of time too.
Michelle Wilson, OT/L, is a UH outpatient rehab community liaison at UH Mayfield Village Health Center.
The highly trained rehabilitation specialists at University Hospitals help people of all ages regain independence, function and confidence after illness or injury or new onset of weakness, memory or mobility issues. Learn more about occupational therapy at University Hospitals.