Thousands of American seniors live in dread of falling, and for good reason. When older adults fall, the result is often a hip fracture, broken bone, head injury, or painful sprain. What’s more, it takes a psychological toll as well. Seniors who fall often experience depression and the worry that they’ll fall again. After all, one in four older Americans suffers a fall every year; as such, it’s the leading cause of injury among American seniors.
It’s a major problem for seniors who choose to age in place and live alone. If they fall and become injured, help may be far away and could take time to reach them. It’s a scary prospect, and it’s why home modifications are so important for seniors who remain in their homes. For them, quality of life is all about staying safe at home, but staying safe takes some work.
A lot of things contribute to in-home accidents among older adults. Loss of balance, diminishing vision, the effects of medications, and environmental factors can all contribute to a risky situation and require mindful and well-considered home modifications.
A poorly lit home interior is one of the most dangerous aspects of a home that’s ill-adapted to the needs of a senior trying to age in place safely. Add lighting throughout the house, and pay particular attention to the more dimly lit areas such as stairwells and rooms that don’t get much natural light. Install motion-activated light sensors in the hallways and bathrooms to reduce the likelihood of an accident during the night. And don’t forget to keep a night light near the bed. Installing ambient, non-glare light bulbs is an easy modification, though you might need some help putting in motion sensors if you lack the knowledge and experience.
The bathroom is an especially risky place for seniors who are susceptible to falling. It’s a place of hard surfaces that become slippery when there’s moisture in the air after a bath or shower. That means modifications here are more important than in any other part of the home. Install grab rails anywhere a fall could occur; they should be firmly anchored into the wall next to the toilet and in the bathroom/shower. Skid-resistant surfaces should be placed in front of the sink, toilet, and shower to provide reliably firm footing where it’s needed most.
Rails can be installed on a DIY basis, though it may be preferable to have an experienced contractor handle the job given the importance of sturdy, well-anchored supports. Make use of an online search tool to find a contractor who’s experienced and equipped to make home modifications at competitive prices. Use objective good sense in determining whether to hire help or to DIY a modification that bears directly on a senior’s safety.
Stairways can be very dangerous places for seniors. For an individual with weakened legs and an unreliable sense of balance, it’s probably a good idea to set up their bedroom on the first floor if at all possible. Otherwise, it may be necessary to install a chair lift or make some other kind of mobility-enhancing modification. In any event, ensure that there are always two safety rails in stairways. For an individual suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, consider having a safety gate installed to prevent a confused senior from accidentally wandering onto the stairs. If you’re installing safety rails yourself, be sure they’re anchored into wall studs.
Of course, seniors can also make personal modifications that can help them stay safe at home. If you’re able to do them (consult your doctor beforehand), try doing exercises that will strengthen the lower body, many of which can be done indoors. Lunges, tricep kickbacks, single-leg stands, and chair leg raises are excellent and simple exercises that can help build muscle strength in your core and leg muscles, thus making it easier for you to avoid falling.
For seniors seeking to maintain their independence, enjoying a good quality of life hinges on the ability to remain safe at home. Strategic modifications can make the difference between the comforts of living at home and requiring assistance in a senior living facility. Avoid trying to do too much yourself unless you have the tools and ability to make necessary modifications.