Elderly Home Hazards Checklist

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The average home can harbor any number of hazards for the elderly. That poorly illuminated staircase may seem like a safe spot because your parent has been using it for decades, but failing eyesight and poor health could turn it from an inconvenience into a perilous threat.

Let's take a look at 10 common hazards around the average home that put the elderly at risk. Most can be fixed or dealt with using a little common sense or a few tools from the garage.

Poor Lighting

Not being able to see what you're doing is dangerous at any age, but the elderly are particularly at risk. To avoid problems like tripping in a darkened hallway or choosing the wrong medication by accident, good lighting plays a critical role in day-to-day safety for the average senior. Here are spots in the home that need reliable illumination:

  • Kitchen
  • Bathroom
  • Hallways
  • Stairs or steps inmulti-level homes
  • Utility rooms
  • Exterior doorways
  • Mudrooms
  • Countertops
  • Garages
  • Closets

Providing great lighting is important, but making lights easy to turn on and off is a consideration too. Make sure switches and knobs are easy to turn and pull chains on ceiling fixtures are accessible. In fact, adding clap activated or touch sensitive lights to some areas of the home is a good idea. Staircases and hallways should also have switches at both ends, not just one.

The amount of light necessary to provide adequate illumination to a specific area of the home may vary, but should always offer enough light to perform common functions for that spot (bathing, cooking, walking, dressing) without straining, squinting or "guessing." Prefer higher over lower wattage bulbs, and change bulbs promptly when they burn out.

  • Use CFLs in all light fixtures to keep energy costs down and to prevent frequent bulb changes. CFLs can last years longer than ordinary light bulbs.
  • Consider installing lights in closets. Straining to see and reach clothing in a dark closet can be annoying and even dangerous. If you don’t want to install electrical wiring in the closet, simply affix battery operated touch lights on the walls inside the closet. Smaller versions are also available to light the insides of cupboards and drawers.

Uneven or Unreliable Flooring

As people age, they may develop problems with depth perception, muscle control and balance. These can all result in hesitation walking, an unsteady gait and occasional dizziness. All floors in and around the home should be level and sturdy to make walking as safe and easy as possible, with carpeting being your safest choice. Carpeting should be tacked down and secured in place with double-sided tape if no more permanent option is available. Whenever possible, grip guards and rubber mats should be installed on stair treads and around areas where water may be present. This includes the bathroom floor, the floor space in front of the kitchen sink and any entry that may become muddy or wet when it rains.

Obstructed Walkways

Because walking can be a challenge for the elderly, anything that makes getting around more difficult is potentially dangerous. According to a report released in 2002 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), over 1.6 million seniors (age 65 or older) were treated in emergency rooms for fall related injuries.

To make walking around the house easier and safer, never string electrical cords across hallways, in front of doorways or across walkways, and remove obstructions that require seniors to walk around furnishings. Create and maintain clear pathways into and around rooms wherever possible.

Unsafe or Complex Electrical Appliances

That French press style coffee maker may seem like a simple household appliance to you, but might be too complicated for your favorite senior. Discuss appliance purchases or gifts with seniors, and make sure to offer helpful instructions for their safe and effective use.

Tubs and Showers

Four out of five bathroom injuries serious enough to warrant a visit to the emergency room are the result of a fall. That's the finding of a 2008 report conducted by the CDC. The biggest offenders were falls in a tub or shower. Taking these precautions will help protect seniors as well as other members of your household:

  • Install grab bars in and around showers, toilets and tubs
  • Add non-slip aids like rubber mats
  • Provide good lighting to shower and tub enclosures
  • Install a ceiling fan that will help vent moisture quickly
  • Consider installing a senior friendly option like a barrier free shower or walk-in tub. See Walk In Tubs.

Toilet

Toilets look safe, but sitting down and standing up from a standard toilet can be a challenge for a senior. The hard surfaces in the bathroom can make a fall from a toilet a serious danger, too. New style "comfort height" toilets require less bending, which makes them a safer choice for the senior in your life. Toilet mounted grab rails are another good option. If you're a handy DIYer, either can be installed in a couple of hours or less.

Medicine Cabinet

Seniors who keep their medications in sink mounted medicine cabinets must reach over the sink and countertop to open the cabinet. This can sometimes require putting weight and stress on the cabinet mounting brackets. All wall mounted medicine cabinets should be installed firmly to wall studs. It's also a good idea to make sure cabinets shelves are made of non-shatter materials. (Glass shelves can break and cause injuries). Also consider installing easy to mount shelves along a wall of the bathroom that can be walked up to without having to reach over the sink. For a no-installation option, simply use a small shelving unit in an easily accessed corner of the bathroom.

Stairs

A home's staircase can be a very dangerous spot for a senior. There is very little margin for error when ascending or descending, and a miscalculation can lead to a bumpy -- and sometimes even life threatening fall. Check to make sure all stairs:

  • Have secure treads
  • Have level treads
  • Are equipped with stable stair rails
  • Are well illuminated
  • Have light switches at the top and bottom
  • Automatic night-lights at the top and bottom of the stairway (and hallways) will instantly turn on the moment it becomes dark, and turn themselves off when a light is turned on.

Outdoor Hazards

When making a home safe for a senior, don't forget the landscape. Steep paths, uneven pavers and slippery stairs can all lead to falls and serious injuries. Falling outdoors can be particularly dangerous, too. If a senior falls outside and is unable to find help fast, temperature extremes or wet conditions pose their own health risks. To make the outdoors more senior friendly:

  • Level paths and walkways or provide railings.
  • Roughen surfaces that can become slick in wet or icy weather.
  • Add lighting to outdoor areas like decks, patios, staircases and walkways. Solar lights will provide adequate lighting without the need for wiring, you won’t need to remember to turn them on and off and they will never increase the electric bill.
  • Remove overgrowth that obstructs staircases, walkways and doorways. If a plant will require frequent maintenance, it may be better just to remove it.

Too High or Low

To help reduce the risk of falling, check to make sure accessories, appliances and fixtures that seniors use often are situated in easily reached locations. This includes:

  • Light switches
  • Cabinet door pulls
  • Locks
  • Appliance knobs
  • Showerheads
  • Faucet handles
  • Fan pull chains

This may also require rearranging the contents of cabinets to make accessing commonly used items more convenient. Using small shelving units and wall shelves can help create more storage in easily reached areas of the home.

Last Updated: August 9, 2012
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About Sara Elliot Sara Elliott is a freelance copywriter and dedicated blogger. Her popular gardening, cooking and crafting blog, The Herb Gardener, was cited by The Wall Street Journal for its fun and frugal tips. Sara has a degree in English, and you can find her health, crafting, and lifestyle pieces on sites like DiscoveryHealth.com, HowStuffWorks.com, Savvi.com and TLC.com.

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