February is “Safety Awareness Month” and a good time to
think about the safety of your home, especially if you are an older adult.
Falls are common among the elderly and broken hips from
falls are a leading cause of death or significant functional decline in adults
over age 65. As we age, health problems and the accompanying medications used
to treat them tend to increase our fall risk.
Making homes more fall-proof is critical to enabling older adults to
continue living safely in their homes for as long as possible.
The first step is to evaluate the home for basic safety.
There should be clear evacuation routes, along with escape plans for fire,
earthquake or other emergencies. Smoke detectors should be installed outside
every bedroom and on every floor. They should be tested regularly and their
batteries replaced annually or even semi-annually. A fail-safe method is to
change smoke-detector batteries when changing clocks to “spring forward” or
A carbon-monoxide detector also should be placed in a
central location within the home or apartment. Under California law, these
devices are now required in both single-family homes and multi-unit dwellings.
For added safety, the kitchen should have a fire extinguisher, and if the home
has a fireplace, it should be equipped with protective screens.
Next, remove common hazards from the home, including
clutter, throw rugs and raised doorway thresholds. Replace any frayed
electrical cords and make sure no wiring or phone cords run underneath rugs or
carpeting or across open areas. Repair loose carpeting and raised
Furniture and cords, of course, should be moved out of
walking pathways. Put rubber tips on walkers or canes to avoid accidental
slips. Water heaters should be set to temperatures below scalding (less than
120 degrees Fahrenheit) and appliances should be in kept in proper working
condition. Any weapons should be appropriately stored in safes or locked
Finally, make changes to the
home to make it safer for occupancy. Some basic recommendations include:
• Keep the home well lit,
especially around stairways, porches and bathrooms.
• Use nightlights in
hallways and bathrooms.
• Ensure light switches are
easily accessible and do not require walking into a dark room to reach.
• Install light switches at
both the top and bottom of stairs.
• Make sure stairways
contain sturdy handrails.
• Install grab bars in the
bathroom and place non-skid mats in and outside the shower/tub area.
• Use shower chairs or
benches, if needed, and long-handled brushes to help with bathing.
• Peepholes should be low
enough for all residents to view.
• Deadbolts should not
require keys to open from inside, unless wandering is an issue.
• Doorways should be wide
enough to allow a walker or wheelchair to pass through.
• Windows and screens should
be easy to open and close.
• Sofas and chairs should be
high and firm for easier sitting and rising.
• Thermostats should be both
easy to read and operate.
• Telephones should be
readily accessible from every room.
• Consider subscribing to an
emergency-response system for 24-hour access to assistance, if needed.
Following these simple steps
will make your home safer for seniors and others alike.
Dr. Grace Chen is
a board-certified geriatrician with the highly regarded UCLA Geriatrics Program
in Santa Monica and Westwood. For more information, call 310.319.4371 or visit www.uclahealth.org.
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