Falls are the number one cause of injury among Canadian seniors, and between 20-30% of seniors experience a fall every year. Aging causes changes to mobility and dexterity, so it’s important to ensure that living conditions stay accessible and safe for seniors as they get older. There are a variety of modifications that can be made in and around the home to eliminate potential fall risks and make life easier for seniors as they age and their needs change.
It’s important to ensure that the entryway to the house is safe and free of potential fall risks. It should be easy to enter and exit the house, especially for seniors with mobility issues. Homes with zero-step entries are great for this, as they eliminate the need to go up or down steps. For homes that do have stairs leading to the entrance, a ramp can make the entryway more accessible, especially for seniors who are wheelchair-bound.
The entrance to the house should be well-lit so that seniors can see where they’re walking. Any sidewalks or pathways leading up to the front of the house should be examined as well. They should be re-paved or replaced if there are any cracks or if the surface is uneven. These pathways should also be salted and shoveled in the winter, as ice and snow can be potential risks.
Many falls occur in the bathroom, so making it safe and accessible should be a priority. Seniors often feel uneasy taking a shower due to the fear that they may slip and fall, so it’s important to make showering easy and accessible for them. A showerhead attached to a long hose allows seniors to easily wash themselves, and a shower chair or stool can allow them to sit down and be comfortable while they do so.
Falls can often happen while getting in and out of a wet tub or shower, so a walk-in shower can be a great option to eliminate this risk. If that isn’t a possibility, it’s important to have adequate supports and grab bars to hold onto so that seniors don’t fall when stepping in and out. These are also useful around the toilet to ensure seniors can stand up and sit down easily. Non-slip bath mats should be put down in front of the shower or bath, and tub mats with suction cups can also be used to avoid slips when stepping in or out.
Trips and slips can both result in falls, so it’s important to make the home as fall-proof as possible. Avoid waxing non-carpeted flooring such hardwood, since slippery floors can cause falls. Putting down a rug may seem like a good idea, but it can be risky. If the rugs are too thick, seniors may trip on the edges. If the rugs aren’t secured with rug pads, they can slide on the floor and cause people to slip. Rugs should only be used if they’re relatively thin and secured with pads.
Stairs are also a common area where slips and falls can occur. Handrails should be installed on both sides of the staircase, and should go all the way to the very top and bottom. If the stairs don’t have carpet on them, it may be idea to get them carpeted or add anti-slip strips. Additionally, it’s important to make sure staircases are well-lit so that seniors are able to see properly and don’t miss a step.
Trips and slips can easily occur in dark, dim rooms, so keeping the house well-lit is a great way to avoid them. During the day, this can be done by making sure there’s enough natural light in the house, and not using curtains or blinds unless necessary. Lighting inside the house should be bright enough so that it eliminates risky areas of low-visibility. Ceiling lights are great for this, as they provide more coverage of light throughout the room.
Light switches should be placed in convenient areas that are easy to reach. It’s also a good idea to get night lights and place them in convenient spots. Some locations for these can include inside the bedroom, in the hallway, and in the bathroom. This makes it easy for seniors to get to the bathroom at night and see where they’re going without having to search for light switches in the dark.
There are a variety of small changes that can be made which make seniors’ lives easier. One example is to swap out round doorknobs for lever-style handles. Seniors with arthritis can have a difficult time gripping and twisting round knobs, and levers are easier to turn. Adding lever-style handles to sinks and showers can also help with this. Light switches can also be made more convenient. Large, rocker-style switches are easier for seniors to find and press than the usual smaller ‘toggle’ switches.
Changes to how the kitchen is organized can help as well. Frequently-used items and ingredients that are stored in cupboards shouldn’t be kept too low or too high. It can be difficult for seniors to get things that are stored in hard-to-reach places, so keeping everything accessible can help a lot. If seniors have a hard time remembering where certain items are stored, it may be useful to add glass cupboard doors so they can see what’s inside without having to open them to search.
This list provides some ideas on how to improve home accessibility, but there are also professional organizations that can perform more in-depth risk assessments for seniors. Whether seniors and their family members decide to make changes themselves or hire professionals to help, increasing safety should be the number one priority. Making the home safe and accessible is the best way to help seniors avoid potential injuries and live at home longer.