Home safety: Make your home safe for your parents

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Home safety: Make your home safe for your parents

Home safety — tips to make your home safe for your parents.

You've invited your aging parents to your home for a special occasion or an extended visit. You spend time tidying up or arranging the guest room for their stay. But to ensure your parents' visit is both enjoyable and safe, consider these simple home safety ideas to make your home more accommodating. Don't worry — no hammer and nails required. These easy and temporary home safety changes will ensure that you'll spend less time worrying and more time visiting with your family.

Gauge your parents' needs

If your parents live close by and you visit them often, you probably have an idea of your parents' health and level of independence. Follow their lead when making safety changes to your home. For instance, if your mother keeps dishes in her house in lower cabinets because she can't reach up high, move a few dishes in your house to a place she can reach them.

Living far away from your parents can make it more difficult to predict your parents' needs. Ask friends or relatives who've visited your parents recently about what home safety accommodations you might need to make in your home. Ask your parents about ways you can make your home more comfortable for them.

In general, most people experience decreased mobility as they age. Even if a parent doesn't use a walker or a wheelchair, he or she may move slower. Older adults also commonly have reduced strength and stamina. Vision, hearing and the sense of smell also often decrease as you get older. Keep these in mind as you consider home safety changes to your home.

Make simple home safety changes

What home safety changes you make depends on your parents' needs. But, in general, here are some easy ways to make your home safer for older adults.

Remove scatter rugs
Unless they're attached firmly to the floor, remove all scatter rugs from areas of your home that your parents will use. Loose scatter rugs are easy to snag a toe on and are the cause of many falls.

Brighten your lighting
Good, bright light is essential to helping your parents see their way inside and outside your home, reducing the risk that they'll fall. Bright lighting in kitchen work areas reduces the risk of burns and cuts. Use at least 60-watt bulbs in most rooms and at least 100-watt bulbs for reading. Place night lights through key pathways in your home, for instance the route to the bathroom.

Make steps stand out
If your parents will use your stairs, make sure the staircase is free of clutter and brightly lit. Consider ways to make your steps easier to see. One idea — use brightly colored electrical tape to mark the edge of each step. Also, a sunlit window at the top or bottom of a staircase can cause glare, making it more difficult to see the steps. Draw the window shade and brighten the overhead lighting.

Hide electrical cords
Move lamps and other appliances closer to the walls so that electrical cords don't extend into traffic areas. Cords may be difficult to see by older adults with low vision and could be a tripping hazard. If you must extend a cord across an area where your parents' will walk, use tape to secure the cord to the floor and attract attention to it. Don't cover the cord with a rug.

Rearrange your furniture
Move low furniture, such as coffee tables, out of high-traffic areas. Another consideration when you're rearranging, move chairs closer together. This can make conversation easier if your parents' have difficulty hearing.

Lower the water temperature
Most hot water heaters are set at 150 F — hot enough to scald within seconds. If you have access to your water heater, turn the temperature down to 120 F or the low setting. If you can't adjust your water heater, consider faucets and valves that prevent scalding — for instance, when someone flushes the toilet while you're in the shower.

Use a bathmat
Nonslip mats and strips applied to the floor of your bathtub or shower will reduce the risk of falls. A wet floor can be just as slippery as the tub, so use a bathmat or textured strip outside the shower, too.

Adjust your chair cushions
Getting out of a soft-cushioned or low chair can prove challenging. Put a board under soft cushions. Raise the height of a chair by placing a pillow or folded blanket on top of the seat.

Move bedroom lamps closer to the bed
Lamps and lighting in the bedroom should be easily reached from the bed. That way your parents won't need to walk from the light switch to the bed in the dark.

Consider more permanent adaptations for longer stays

If your parents are staying for a long period of time or if they visit often, consider more permanent changes to your home. For instance, grab bars in the shower and around the toilet could make the bathroom even safer. Assistive devices, such as reaching tools to reach objects up high or jar openers for people who have difficulty gripping, can make life easier. Your parents may already have their own assistive devices they can bring from home. Or you can purchase necessary tools at a medical supply store or online.

Last Updated: 09/02/2005
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