Making Homes Safer For Seniors: UCLA Santa Monica Geriatrician

Sunday, 10 Feb 2013, 9:03:00 AM

Grace Chen, M.D.

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

“fall back.”

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

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