Keeping Home a Safe Haven
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that in one year alone, more than 622,000 people over the age of 65 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with products in the home.
As we get older, changes in vision, gait, strength, hearing, and cognition make even the most youthful senior more prone to accidents. Falls are one of the leading health risks for older people, with an estimated one third of all people age 60 and older suffering a fall each year. This increased risk of falling is related to:
- The aging process (decreased muscle strength or slowed reflexes)
- Higher incidence of chronic health problems (arthritis or diabetes) that may limit mobility, agility or sensory awareness
- Side effects of medication (dizziness or blurred vision)
Depending on the brittleness of your bones, the consequences of a fall can be serious and long lasting.
Research by the Association of Aging (AOA) shows that one half to one third of all home accidents among older adults can be prevented by making simple lifestyle changes and basic modifications and repairs to the home environment. Here are some lifestyle changes that experts recommend to increase your safety:
- Have your hearing and vision checked regularly. Be sure to wear prescription glasses that are right for you.
- Speak to your health care provider or pharmacist about the possible side effects of your medications.
- Limit your intake of alcohol.
- If necessary, use a cane or walker to help maintain your balance.
- Wear supportive, rubber-soled shoes, even at home. (There's a reason "slippers" are so named!)
- Exercise regularly to help maintain muscle tone, agility, and balance.
- Always hold the banister when going up or down stairs, and use grip bars when getting in or out of the bath or shower, or using the toilet
- To avoid dizziness, get up slowly from a lying down position; sit up first, dangling your legs for a minute or two before rising to a standing position
Overall Home Safety Check
According to the CPSC's "Older Consumer Home Safety Checklist," it is important to check for potential hazards in each room as well as in your home in general. And remember, proper lighting is an essential factor in home safety, because if you can't see clearly, you're more likely to fall.
Important questions to ask yourself include:
- Are lamp, electric, extension, and telephone cords placed out of the flow of traffic and maintained in good condition? Have frayed cords been replaced?
- Are all small rugs and runners slip resistant? If not, you can secure them to the floor with a special double-sided carpet tape.
- Are smoke detectors properly located, (with one on every floor of your home, and one outside of every sleeping area) and in good working order? Are batteries replaced at least once a year?
- Do you have a well-maintained carbon monoxide detector outside every sleeping are in your home?
- Does your furniture layout leave plenty of space to maneuver between and around chairs, tables, beds, and sofas?
- Are hallways, stairs and passages between rooms well lit? Can you reach a lamp without getting out of bed to prevent nighttime falls?
- Are floor surfaces well maintained? Shag rugs, high-pile carpeting, tile floors, and polished wood floors can be particularly slippery. Stairs should always have handrails and be carpeted or fitted with a non-skid tread.
- Is your telephone easily reachable, and is the cord safely tucked away?
Room by Room
According to the Association of Aging, bathrooms and kitchens are the two most potentially hazardous rooms in your home.
- In the Kitchen...
- Be sure your stove is in proper working order and always make sure burners and the oven are off before you go out or go to sleep.
- Keep pots on the back burners, turn handles away from the front of the stove, and keep stove clean and free of grease build-up.
- Kitchen ventilation systems and range exhausts should be working properly.
- Keep flammable objects such as towels and pot holders away from the cooking area except when in use, and make sure kitchen curtains are tied back.
- Move cords and appliances away from the sink and hot surfaces, and, if extension cords are needed, install wiring guides so they don't hang over the sink, range or working areas.
- Look for coffee pots, kettles and toaster ovens with automatic shut-offs.
- Keep a mop handy in the kitchen so you can wipe up spills instantly, as well as a small fire extinguisher.
- Arrange your kitchen with frequently used items on lower shelves to avoid the need to stand on a stepstool to reach them.
- Make sure countertops are well-lit to avoid injuries while cutting and preparing food, and reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting or globes on light fixtures.
- In the Bathroom...
- Use a non-slip mat or decals in the tub and shower, since wet, soapy tile or porcelain surfaces are extremely slippery.
- Make sure bathroom rugs are non-skid or tape them firmly to the floor. Bathtubs should have at least one, preferably two, grab bars, firmly attached to structural supports in the wall. (Do not use built-in soap holders or glass shower doors as grab bars.)
- Tub seats fitted with non-slip material on the legs allow you to wash sitting down, and, for people with limited mobility, bathtub transfer benches allow you to slide safely into the tub.
- Raised toilet seats and toilet safety rails are helpful for those with knee or hip problems.
- In the Bedroom...
- Bedrooms are generally considered to be safe places, but there are some precautions you can take.
- Make sure you use a nightlight and that the area around your bed is clear of potential obstacles.
- Be careful with electric blankets and never go to sleep with a heating pad, which can cause serious burns even if on a low setting.
- Use fire-resistant mattress covers and pillows, and NEVER smoke in bed.
- Keep a phone next to the bed that is programmed to dial 911 at the push of a button.
If you have a chronic medical condition, you may want to sign on with an automatic call-in service. Typically the system includes a small pendant that connects directly to an emergency medical voice-response system. You should also make arrangements to stay in contact with someone—friend, neighbor, family member—every day, few days or week.
According to the National S.A.F.E. (Smoke Alarms for Every) Home Foundation, senior citizens are one of the two highest risk groups for death and serious injuries due to residential fires.
- When cooking, wear short-sleeved items, never a bulky long-sleeved robe.
- The CPSC's Safety Checklist for Older Consumers emphasizes the importance of checking basements, garages, workshops and storage areas for fire hazards such as volatile liquids, piles of old rags or clothing and overloaded circuits.
- Never smoke in bed or when lying down on a couch or recliner chair.
- Small portable electric or kerosene heaters are responsible for many home fires and should be used cautiously if at all. If you do use one, be sure to keep them away from flammable materials.
- In case of fire, make sure you have a pre-established emergency exit plan.
- Have a professional check your fireplace and other fuel-burning appliances yearly.
Baby boomers entering the golden years will continue to see the development of new products to help older adults live safely and independently in spite of age-related changes. Making Life More Livable , by Ellen Lederman, lists over 1000 products for "living well in the mature years," such as bathing and mobility aids, household security devices, ergonomically designed knives and peelers, and faucet valves and knobs for temperature control. Medical supply stores and organizations such as the Lighthouse National Center for Vision and Aging, AARP or the Arthritis Foundation are good sources of information about products that improve your quality of life and insure your safety.
Canadian Health Network
Seniors Canada On-line
Older consumer home safety checklist. Consumer Product Safety Commission website. Available at: http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/705.pdf.
Universal design: home modification devices. American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) website. Available at: http://www.aarp.org/universalhome/home.html .
5/28/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Haran M, Cameron I, Ivers R, et al. Effect on falls of providing single lens distance vision glasses to multifocal glasses wearers: VISIBLE randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2010;340:c2265.
Last reviewed November 2009 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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