We all have heard the saying: Home is Where the Heart Is. For many seniors, that is more than a saying, it is where we want to be for the rest of our lives. But, as we age, we need to consider what remaining in our home will mean long-term as we plan for major life changes such as medical issues and monthly income and expenses. Additionally, we need to think about what home modifications are needed to make it safer for us to remain where loving memories were made and where we feel comfortable and independent.
“Aging at home” is a term used today for seniors preferring to stay in their own homes while avoiding the need for assisted living arrangements. Whether you are currently retired or soon will be, whether you care for yourself or live with a family member who needs daily care, or whether you live alone and are concerned about getting help if needed, think about adopting several of the following suggestions for remaining safe and healthy in your home long-term.
10 Safety Tips for Aging at Home
You can make your home environment safer for long-term living with a few modifications to minimize or eliminate the risks of slip-and-fall hazards, fires, darkened areas, and home intruders.
1. Stairs always present the possibility of a misstep that results in a fall that can cause bodily harm or a serious injury. One way to make indoor stairs safer is to install railings that can be gripped for stability as you go up and down. Keep the stairs clear to avoid stumbling or tripping over unexpected objects. If you or a family member has vision problems, place a strip of colored tape at the edge of each step for ease of distinguishing each step to avoid missing a step and causing a fall. Install a ramp outside for ease of getting into and out of the home if you or your spouse uses a walker, cane, or wheelchair for mobility.
2. Remove or tape down small area mats or throw rugs to avoid tripping hazards. The mats or rugs may enhance your décor, but without a rubberized backing, they present a major fall hazard for seniors. They also hinder mobility for someone using a cane, a wheelchair, or a walker.
3. Homes are full of extension cords. Ensure extension cords are not stretched across floor areas where people can trip over the cords.
4. Even if your home runs on total electricity, a fire can start from frayed or damaged electric cords and from overloading extension cords or power cords. Inspect these cords regularly and replace them as soon as damage is detected. Keep space heaters at least 36 inches away from objects that can catch fire such as curtains, rugs, bedding, table cloths, and paper products. Never leave a space heater turned on overnight or when leaving the room. Replace batteries routinely in life-saving smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detectors. Never leave burning candles unattended, always extinguish the flame when leaving the room.
5. Safety steps for your bathrooms include installing handgrip bars in showers, at an arm-reach level in bathtubs, and next to the toilets. An additional safety precaution is to place rubber mats on the bottom of the bathtubs and showers. Use a bathing chair in showers to avoid falls. Installing a handheld showerhead makes it easy to use when seated in the shower. Install raised toilet seats that make it easier to both sit and stand. Install a night light to make it easier to see the pathway when making frequent night-time trips to the bathroom. Only use floor mats that have a rubber backing to avoid slipping or tripping over the mat. Ensure the toilet paper is within easy reach.
6. Because eyesight changes over time, it may be harder to see clearly in darkened areas. Be sure to replace burnt-out bulbs. Use bulbs designated as daylight to provide brighter lighting. For more secure maneuverability and to avoid tripping over unseen objects, consider installing light fixtures in darkened areas, corners, and hallways.
7. Make the kitchen user-friendly placing frequently used dishes, glasses, and spices on the lower shelves of the cabinets. Always use a step stool when reaching for items on a higher shelf or use a medical hand-grab device to grip small objects on upper shelves.
8. Install and use a peep-hole in the front door to see who is outside. Another safety device is an outside monitoring system that lets you see who is at the door or coming onto your property. Keep outside doors locked and never open the door to strangers.
9. Have a telephone with a caller ID feature that allows incoming calls to be screened. To avoid compromising your social security, Medicare, and banking account numbers, never give personal information over the telephone to people not known to you. If someone claims that a family member is in danger and needs immediate financial assistance, ask for their contact information. Hang up and check on the family member in question. This is usually a scam and needs to be reported to the police.
10. Wearing shoes with non-slip bottoms helps to avoid slipping on smooth surfaces and helps prevent falls.
5 Health Tips for Aging at Home
To stay as healthy as possible while aging at home, consider ways to care for yourself and for any loved one living with you. The following are health-related suggestions for remaining in your home long-term that help in avoiding the need for assisted living accommodations.
1. Keep a list of emergency numbers updated and share this information with a close friend or relative who can provide this information to medical personnel when needed. Place these numbers on a wall calendar for quick reference and program these numbers in the telephone and cell phone directories. In addition to emergency medical numbers, program the names and numbers of family members and friends who can be called for assistance or immediate help. Also program 1-800-222-1222 for the Poison Control Center.
2. Have a list of all medications and supplements you or someone you care for takes on a daily basis. List the name of the prescriptions and supplements plus how much to take and when to take them. Use this list as a reference to ensure they are being taken according to the instructions.
3. Use a wall calendar or a daily journal notebook to keep track of all medical and social appointments. Look at these records every day to ensure the appointments are kept. If you are not able to drive yourself to these meetings, ask your family, friends, or caregiver for a ride. Don’t be shy about asking for help. People like to help loved ones when needed. When asked about helping a loved one, most people say it is a personal pleasure to help when they can.
3. Eating healthy foods is a good way to get nutritional needs fulfilled. If you are not able to get to the grocery store, ask a friend, family member, or caregiver to shop for you. Only buy what you need for a few days and refrain from over buying foods that will spoil before you get to eat them.
4. Personal hygiene is important. If you are not able to shower or dress by yourself, ask your spouse, caregiver, or close family member to help. Depending on your personal finances, you can employ a home health aide to help you for a few hours each day. If you are able, you can provide assistance to a spouse who needs help with personal hygiene.
5. Stay as active as possible. Exercise is one way to retain healthy mobility and bodily performance while having social engagements helps to maintain mental alertness. You can take advantage of Medicare benefits to stay healthy. You may have access to local physical fitness centers or senior centers if you have a Medicare Advantage plan. Aging at home is the location where you want to remain long-term, but getting out and socializing keeps you from getting bored. If you or your spouse have mobility problems that make going outdoors difficult, invite loved ones and friends to come to your home. Plan weekly visits with different friends or family members who can come to your home for a lunch date or for an afternoon to enjoy tea and dessert, to play cards, or just to talk with each other.
Once you have decided that staying in your home long-term is what you want, consider how you can make aging at home work for you and anyone else living with you. Think about the changes needed for both inside and outside of your home. Think about how to maintain your physical and mental health. After the considerations have been thought through and you are comfortable with the outcome, you are on track to age at home safely and healthy for the long term. Enjoy your remaining years in your own home where you continue to have memorable moments.