EBSCO Health

Print PageSend to a Friend
Health Library Home>Wellness Centers>Aging & Health>Article

Keeping Home a Safe Haven

As we get older, changes in balance, gait, strength, vision, hearing, and cognition make even the most youthful senior more prone to accidents. Falls can be a health risk for older people. This increased risk of falling is related to:

Depending on the brittleness of your bones, the consequences of a fall can be serious and long lasting.

Home Life

If you are an older adult, you may be able to prevent some home accidents by making simple lifestyle changes and basic modifications and repairs to the home environment. Here are some lifestyle changes that experts recommend:

Overall Home Safety Check

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commision's "Older Consumer Home Safety Checklist," it is important to check for potential hazards in each room. And remember, proper lighting is an essential factor in home safety. If you cannot see clearly, you are more likely to fall.

Important questions to ask yourself include:

Room by Room

In the Kitchen

  • Be sure your stove is in proper working order and always make sure burners and the oven are off before you go out or go to sleep.
  • Keep pots on the back burners, turn handles away from the front of the stove, and keep stove clean and free of grease build-up.
  • Kitchen ventilation systems and range exhausts should be working properly.
  • Keep flammable objects, such as towels and pot holders, away from the cooking area except when in use. Make sure kitchen curtains are tied back.
  • Move cords and appliances away from the sink and hot surfaces. If extension cords are needed, install wiring guides so they do not hang over the sink, range, or working areas.
  • Look for coffee pots, kettles, and toaster ovens with automatic shut-offs.
  • Keep a mop handy in the kitchen so you can wipe up spills instantly. You should also have a small fire extinguisher.
  • Arrange your kitchen with frequently used items on lower shelves to avoid the need to stand on a stepstool to reach them.
  • Make sure countertops are well-lit to avoid injuries while cutting and preparing food.

In the Bathroom

  • Use a non-slip mat or decals in the tub and shower, since wet, soapy tile or porcelain surfaces are extremely slippery.
  • Make sure bathroom rugs are non-skid or tape them firmly to the floor. Bathtubs should have at least one, preferably two, grab bars, firmly attached to structural supports in the wall. (Do not use built-in soap holders or glass shower doors as grab bars.)
  • Tub seats fitted with non-slip material on the legs allow you to wash sitting down. For people with limited mobility, bathtub transfer benches allow you to slide safely into the tub.
  • Raised toilet seats and toilet safety rails are helpful for those with knee or hip problems.

In the Bedroom

  • Make sure you use a nightlight and that the area around your bed is clear of potential obstacles.
  • Be careful with electric blankets and never go to sleep with a heating pad, which can cause serious burns even if on a low setting.
  • Use fire-resistant mattress covers and pillows, and NEVER smoke in bed.
  • Keep a phone next to the bed that is programmed to dial 911 at the push of a button.

If you have a chronic condition, you may want to sign up with an automatic call-in service. Typically the system includes a small pendant that connects directly to an emergency medical voice-response system. You should also make arrangements to stay in contact with someone—friend, neighbor, family member—on a regular schedule.

Fire Prevention

Helping Hands

Talk with your doctor or assisted living personnel about items that may help you to be safe as you go about your day. These may include bathing and mobility aids, household security devices, ergonomically designed knives and peelers, and faucet valves and knobs for temperature control. Medical supply stores and organizations are also good sources of information about products that improve your quality of life and ensure your safety.

RESOURCES:

AARP
http://www.aarp.org/

National Institute on Aging
http://www.nih.gov/nia/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Health Network
http://www.canadian-health-network.ca/

Seniors Canada On-line
http://www.seniors.gc.ca/

REFERENCES:

Falls in the elderly. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated March 4, 2011. Accessed March 7, 2011.

Older consumer home safety checklist. Consumer Product Safety Commission website. Available at:http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/705.pdf.

Universal design: home modification devices. American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) website. Available at:http://www.aarp.org/universalhome/home.html.

5/28/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature SurveillanceDynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Haran M, Cameron I, Ivers R, et al. Effect on falls of providing single lens distance vision glasses to multifocal glasses wearers: VISIBLE randomised controlled trial.BMJ. 2010;340:c2265.

3/7/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature SurveillanceDynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Panel on Prevention of Falls in Older Persons, American Geriatrics Society and British Geriatrics Society. Summary of the Updated American Geriatrics Society/British Geriatrics Society clinical practice guideline for prevention of falls in older persons.J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011;59(1):148-57.