As the aging population continues to rise, and with seniors in the US projected to reach 98 million by 2060, it is no surprise that we need to discuss safe living options for the seniors in our lives. Aging in place is one of those options in senior living that has seen a major increase in recent years with no signs of slowing down. In fact, some 87% of seniors report hoping to stay in their homes for the rest of their lives, according to a survey by AARP.
Defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as, “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level,” aging in place is believed to improve a senior’s overall quality of life as well as their physical health. We’ll discuss all the detailed benefits that aging in place has on health and wellness in a future article.
In this article we’ll dive into some of the safety concerns associated with aging in place, and some easy, inexpensive ways you can make a home safer, without an entire home remodel. Use these tips so that the aging adult in your life may live a comfortable, independent life in their own home for many years to come.
Bathroom safety is one of the biggest issues to address, since slips and falls account for roughly 235,000 nonfatal injuries in the US each year alone. Without a full bathroom remodel, there are a few things you can do to make the bathroom a safer space. Adding a shower seat, anti-slip coating on the floor and switching to a handheld shower head all are inexpensive options for upgrading the bathroom in terms of safety. Installing a seat extender on the toilet and grab bars both near the toilet as well as the bath or shower are also minimal adjustments that can make a big difference in the overall safety of the bathroom.
If a senior is aging in place in a two-story home, the stairways should ideally have railings on both sides, easy to grab and have no gaps in them from the bottom to the top of the stairs. If you already have railings, do a quick check to make sure they are secure with no wiggle to them. Skip the carpet runners, which are a major tripping hazard, and opt for non-slip strips on the stairs instead. If vision is an issue, you can use brightly colored strips to clearly indicate one stair from the next and make sure that the stairwell is always well-lit. If the stairs in question have a landing, you might think about adding a small bench to offer to the user a safe place to rest before continuing up the second half of the stairs.
Ideally as the senior ages, the less trips up and down the stairs, the better. So if it is possible, consider setting up the main bedroom and bathroom on the first floor to reduce stair time.
Unfortunately, pets are also a tripping hazard for older adults. That being said, many seniors consider their pet part of the family and are important companions as they age. A designated area for the pet can work wonders when the older adult is moving around the home. Using a child’s safety gate to close the pet into a certain area while the adult is cooking, showering, etc, can help to make sure they are not underfoot during these high-movement times.
When moving about in the home, we want to make it as safe and comfortable as possible. This should include removing throw rugs (another tripping hazard), making sure electrical cords are out of the walking path, and making the change in floor surfaces (from tile to carpet or wood for example) obvious and clearly marked. Make sure all smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors are functioning and operational.
A final concern is the backyard swimming pool. While pools can be extremely beneficial for older adults as a way to keep them active and get fresh air, they can also be a safety concern. Some thoughts on making the pool a safer place is to add handrails to all entrance points of the pool. Installing a graded ramp is a great, though more expensive option if the stairs to the pool become too difficult to maneuver.
There are a variety of ways to make the home a safer, more comfortable place for an aging adult without a large budget or having to do major upgrades. Try these tips to address some of the most common safety concerns when it comes to aging in place.