For many, age can change how they approach daily life. But for safe senior living, aging parents will have to make adjustments to their home.
Nearly 90% of individuals over age 65 want to stay in their home for as long as possible, according to a research report by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the AARP Public Policy Institute.
Furthermore, 80% believe their current residence is where they will always live.
For those who want to stay home, or “age in place,” safety is a major factor. “Seniors aging at home are constantly at risk for life-threatening falls,” explains Gaby Loria, a long-term care market researcher at Software Advice.
Adding safety features now, you may be able to help your parent live comfortably at home for a long time.
“Some home modifications that minimize the risk for life-threatening falls can be implemented for under $500,” Loria says.
Here, experts lay out key safety features to add to an elderly loved one’s home to help create a stable environment for senior living now and for years to come.
One out of 3 adults aged 65 or older falls each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.
Those accidents often have major consequences. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in adults age 65 and older, the CDC says.
To prevent slips, start by checking the lights in your parent’s home. “Dim lighting can lead to potentially dangerous falls, especially as our eyesight starts to go,” notes Hilary Young, spokeswoman for Medical Guardian.
Put night lights in hallways, stairwells and bathrooms, Young says. Then look for additional spots where it may be hard to see, such as near the front entrance or close to the bed in the bedroom. Ask or watch your senior as he or she navigates the home to detect other areas where more lighting is needed.
Lamps that turn on and off by touch might work on bedside tables. For closets and pantries, consider battery-powered motion sensor lights, which switch on automatically. These lights turn off after 20 seconds or when movement is no longer detected.
Another way to add more light, especially at night: PathLights Wireless LED Stair Lights. The lights detect motion and alert other lights to turn on, thus creating a well-lit path for your senior.
Among people 65 years and older, nearly 800,000 injuries related to stairs, ramps, landings or floors were seen in hospital emergency departments in 2011, according to a 2013 Consumer Product Safety Commission report.
To avoid slippery floors, start by surveying each room. “Securely tape down rugs or get rid of buckling carpets,” Young says.
Barbara Coleman, rehabilitation manager at the Natick Visiting Nurse Association in Natick, Massachusetts, says to clear clutter that could cause tripping, including electrical or phone cords. Check that the pathway from the bed to the bathroom is obstacle-free.
Also, add non-slip mats in areas that can be prone to wetness, such as the bathroom and kitchen.
For stairs, treads placed on steps might help improve traction. Outdoors, make sure any sidewalks or driveways are smooth and even. Another option is anti-slip coatings that can be applied to the floor just like a paint or a finish.
It can be easy to become forgetful with age and age-related conditions such as dementia, says Bunni Dybnis, director of professional services at LivHOME, an at-home senior care company in Los Angeles.
To help prevent hazards in the kitchen, such as fires started when a burner is left on, there are a number of options. You might consider temperature-controlled cookware. For instance, the Safe T Element cooking system is designed to keep the temperature below the auto-ignition point of cooking oil, thus reducing the risk of a fire.
Another option is systems that automatically turn off stoves and ovens, such as CookStop and Stove Guard.
If cooking becomes a difficult task, it may be time to simply avoid the stove. “The microwave for heating meals is a safer alternative … if the individual has memory issues,” Coleman says.
Besides preparing meals, there are other options for eating and drinking. A few to consider: a travel mug for carrying hot beverages; lightweight or plastic dishes; and nonslip placemats for the table or on a countertop so that small appliances, such as a coffee pot, don’t slide around.
Medical alert devices have come a long way since those commercials we’re familiar with, Young says.
Rather than offering a call button to an elderly person who has fallen and can’t get up, these systems now come with features such as GPS technology. High-end models may have fall-detection technology. If your senior experiences a heart attack or is knocked unconscious, a call is automatically triggered.
Basic models start around $30 per month, but that price can increase with more features. Additional charges, such as activation or equipment fees, may also affect the overall cost.
Be aware that your elderly relative may not be eager for a personal emergency response system. “Many of the aging population do not feel like they are ready for that type of system,” Coleman says.
If you want to discuss the option with your parent, consider shifting the emphasis to yourself. You might say, “It will make me feel better knowing you have this.”
The emergency response system can be especially beneficial for the senior who lives alone, Dybnis says.
Several to consider: GoSafe from Philips Lifeline, LifeStation, Medical Guardian and MobileHelp.
Falls in the bathroom often happen at night, especially if a person takes certain medications or is groggy, Dybnis says.
Grab bars are a good starting point to increase safety. In fact, installing grab bars, handrails or both was the most common home safety modification made by seniors, according to a February 2015 report by Software Advice.
Also, look into getting a high-rise toilet. In the shower, consider putting in a shower chair and replacing wall-mounted shower heads with hand-held ones. More elaborate modifications, such as walk-in bathtubs, may be a good fit for seniors who find it difficult to step into the tub.
If your parent struggles with hearing, a phone with a flashing light or loud ring tone can make it easier to know when a call comes in. Two to try: the Philips phone with a flashing ringer light and loud ring, and a loud ringer light box.
A light that flashes when the doorbell rings might help, too.
Other systems make protecting your senior and caregiving from a distance possible. For instance, the Wellness program through Alarm.com provides 24/7 emergency response for intrusion, fire and medical emergencies. Also, family members and caregivers can monitor a person’s activity. It also lets caregivers automate things, such as lights, thermostats and locks.
Another possibility is grandCARE, which is designed to let family members, caregivers and even health care professionals remotely care for a person. The senior receives messages and medication prompts through a large touch screen that remains at the home. Users can access video chat, pictures and calendar events through the device, too.
Before you install any equipment, make sure you assess the unique needs of your loved one, Dybnis says. In addition, talking to your parent, a doctor, caregiver or occupational therapist can help evaluate current and future needs.