For many people, the ultimate goal is to stay in their own home until the day that they die. While this may not be possible for everyone, the goal can be very attainable for many. There are some obstacles that you may face, however, with regard to safety in your home as you age. There are many possible hazards in your home and as the body changes with age, these hazards become more dangerous.
As people age, the normal senses of the body tend to become more dulled including sight, touch, hearing, and smell. In addition to the common dulling of the senses, reaction time also declines. These changes can result in a decreased ability to judge distance, perceive foot placement, or react to sudden events like tripping. There are a few areas of the home that can be particularly dangerous as we age including the stairs, bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom.
The stairs can be very treacherous if depth perception is altered, overall strength has declined, or balance is poor. In order to ensure safety on stairs, use the following guidelines:
- Have a sturdy handrail preferably on both sides of the staircase or steps
- Have good lighting with accessible light-switches at the top and bottom of the steps
- Clear the steps of all objects
- Have secure, non-slip strips or carpeting of good condition on each step
- Use colored tape on the edge of each step if you have difficulty seeing the edge of the steps (ex. problems with depth perception or overall vision)
Bathrooms hold several different hazards from tubs, to toilets, to water temperature. Without proper management of the bathroom space, a fall may likely occur.
- Use a non-slip surface or mat in the tub
- Place grab bars in the shower and by the toilet for assistance when needed
- If you fatigue quickly while standing in the shower, use a shower chair
- Clean up any water spilled on the floor immediately to avoid slipping
- Mark your faucet nobs clearly as hot and cold
- Turn the water heater thermostat to 120 degrees F or lower to avoid scalding
- Leave a light or a night-light on in the bathroom in case your need to use it at night
The kitchen holds some similar hazards as the bathroom in relation to spilled water and properly marked nobs, but one significant factor that is more dangerous about the kitchen is the greater risk of a fire.
- Make sure the kitchen is well lit especially at the counter spaces for food prep
- Make sure that no curtains hang over the stove that could fall and catch fire
- Wipe up any grease or liquid spills immediately
- Do not leave any open flames unattended (ex. gas stoves)
- Do not wear long, loose sleeves while cooking
- Oven controls should be clearly marked and placed in the front or side of the oven
- Keep pot holders near the oven and use for both the oven or removing things from the microwave to avoid burns
- Have all commonly used items within easy reaching range and use only a sturdy step stool to grab items that are placed higher
- Unplug any small appliances when not in use (ex. toaster)
- Have a fire extinguisher readily available
The bedroom is most hazardous late at night or early in the morning when you are tired and there is more risk of tripping in the darkness.
- Arrange the bed and furniture so that there is plenty of open space to walk
- Have a lamp or flashlight near your bed for any need to get up in the middle of the night
- Use a night-light for possible trips to the bathroom
- Keep electrical cords against the walls rather than across the floor
- If you use an assistive device for getting around your home, make sure that it is next to your bed for when you get up
There are several more ways to improve safety in your home including eliminating throw rugs, having telephones at a level that can be reached from the floor with emergency numbers posted by each phone, having someone come in the winter to spread salt or sand on icy areas outside of your home, and using boots with good traction if you venture out of your home in the winter. Another important thing to consider is either getting a portable medical alert button or having a portable phone to carry with you at all times. This is especially important if you have balance issues and difficulty getting up from the floor on your own. For further safety tips check out the resource links listed below.