6 Simple Tips to Improve Safety in Home for Seniors

According to the CDC every second of every day an older adult, over age 65, has a fall. This makes falls the leading cause of death and injury for that age group. A recent AARP survey shows nearly 8 in 10 older adults want to age in their home. Fortunately, there are a few simple and effective ways that seniors can improve their safety at home and reduce their risk of falls. 


What I recommend doing first is trying to remember any falls you’ve had or instances where you have felt unsteady or off balance. Write them down and see if there is a common thread. Do they typically occur at night? In the bath? Getting out of a chair? Answering some of those simple questions can help you narrow down what you want to focus on and which of these changes will give you the most bang for your buck. 


1) Remove all area rugs and make sure carpets are secure. 


This is one of the easiest solutions but also the hardest for patients of mine to make. We fall in love with our rugs and maybe it’s the piece that completes the look of a room but it’s not worth the risk of creating a tripping hazard. Of falls that required an emergency room visit for adults over the age of 65, approximately 50% were the result of tripping over a rug or carpet.


2) Make some modifications to your bathroom


Now your bathroom doesn’t have to look like the one posted below but the majority of falls in the home occur in the bathroom, so it is an essential part of keeping you safe at home. Some estimates are as high as 80% of falls for seniors occur in the bathroom. There are various ways ranging from free (removing area rugs, raised toilet seats) to more expensive (walk-in shower installations). This is just a basic overview but I have another article that goes into more detail on the different ways to try and make your bathroom as fall-proof as possible.


3) Make sure you have proper lighting 


Make sure all the lights in your home are in good working condition. As you age your eyesight ends up needing 2-6 times more light than it did when you were young. Try to use natural lighting as much as possible during the day with lights that produce as much ambient light as possible. If you’re worried about a large electric bill, you can use CFL or LED lights. Compared to a normal 25-watt incandescent bulb a 25-watt CFL gives you 4 times more light, and a 25w LED gives you 6-8 times more light! 


Try to make sure all light switches are at a uniform height. The recommended height for light switches is 48 inches. 


Since many falls happen at night, typically walking to the bathroom, I recommend motion sensor lights in the bathroom, hallway, and bedroom. A simple night light placed in strategic positions, where you typically walk at night can make all the difference in keeping you safe. Another option is motion sensor lights that can be installed anywhere without any wiring. 


4) Say goodbye to your old recliner


Do most of your falls happen when getting out of bed or out of your chair? You’re not alone. I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve seen who just will not give up their favorite recliner, even though it wobbles, has holes in it, and is low to the ground. It’s like a baseball glove, once it’s broken in, it’s hard to get rid of it. But guess what, eventually you get used to that new mitt and it’s just as nice as the old one. 


You need a solid surface to push off from so if you’re chair is extremely soft or spins around, how can you get a good push-off to safely stand? You’re setting yourself up for failure. Make sure when you’re sitting forward and about to stand up that the height of your knees is at least level with the height of your hips. If your hips are higher than your knees, even better.


Lift chair recliners are worth every penny. They’re extremely comfortable, with many having added features like light heating or massagers. I recommend VivaLift chairs. They are well made and offer infinite positions so you can fully recline back, for those who like to sleep in their recliner, to nearly standing, and all positions in between. 


A little safety tip. Use a large safety pin or velcro to either pin or secure the controller to the armrest of the chair to make sure you don’t accidentally sit on the remote or have it fall off the chair. 


5) Adjust your bed


Are you falling out of bed, sliding off the mattress when you’re sitting up? If you are unable to lower the height of your bed, you can get a hospital bed which can be adjusted up and down. Now hospital beds can be expensive and many people love their mattress or bed and don’t want to get rid of it, so an easier fix is having a bed rail put in place, which will give you something to hold on to while sitting up.

I recommend what’s called an M-bar. They’re not too large and cumbersome but much safer than the other U-shaped bars that are out there. I’ve been to multiple senior living centers that do not use anything but M-bars due to safety concerns. The M-bars are safe, easy to install, and a lot cheaper than buying a whole new bed. 


6) Make your stairs safer


There are a lot of things to consider with stairs, how many are there, are they inside or outside? So let’s go over a few options ranging from cheap and simple to a bit more complex and expensive. 

If it is just one threshold step you can place a grab bar on the wall, like in the picture below.


Image result for grab bar doorway | Tall cabinet storage, Home, Grab bars

You can also add grip tape to create a nonslip surface. This is especially useful for outdoor stairs.

If you have more than one step you’re going to want to look into having handrails on both sides installed. I’m not going to go into detail on the height because a qualified contractor will know that. What I will recommend is to make sure the railings extend past the last step. This will give you better leverage to be able to help pull yourself up and to balance. Often times railings end right at the last step. This causes some people to become off balance because they no longer have a railing to help pull themselves forward with. It’s a small adjustment but believe me it makes all the difference.

If you have a flight of stairs then you’re best and safest bet is to have a stairlift installed. They can make stairlifts that work on almost any staircase. They also have back up batteries so you never have to worry about getting stuck.

About the author: Ronald Barbieri graduated in 2011 with a doctorate degree in physical therapy. His focus over the past 8 years has been in home care, ensuring patients are safe in the home. He has a wealth of knowledge from working in all settings including the hospital, outpatient, burn unit and nursing facility. You can contact him at ronbarbierirehab@gmail.com

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