Feeling safe and secure at home is a priority for any homeowner. But safety is of particular concern for aging men and women who are at greater risk of being involved in accidents at home than younger men and women.
Harvard Health Publishing says that accidents at home are among the leading causes of injury and death in the United States. The chances for fatalities increases as one ages, and by age 75 and older, men and women are almost four times as likely to die in a home accident as people a decade younger.
As people age, their balance, eyesight and general physical abilities can begin to diminish. Furthermore, a fall or incident that may only bruise a younger individual can cause more serious breaks or damage for seniors, resulting in potentially lengthy recovery times.
Any kind of health scare, a broken bone, falling or almost falling, then it’s time to start thinking about home safety, said Juli Rose, senior program manager for minor home repair at Homage, which is based in Lynnwood and provides services for senior citizens and disabled people throughout Snohomish County.
“It absolutely depends on personal health,” Rose said. She’s seen people in their forties who are immobile and a person in their nineties who plays golf weekly. “You just need to look ahead and be smart.”
The Home Care Assistance organization says that one million elderly people are admitted to the emergency room for injuries every year. People concerned about the safety of their homes or the homes of their aging loved ones can retrofit properties to make them safer.
One simple thing a homeowner can do is make sure the address on the outside of their home is visible, Rose said. That way emergency responders can see it. A homeowner should also replace their smoke detectors if they are at least 10 years old. They should also have a carbon monoxide detector An inexpensive addition is also a peep hole on the front door.
According to The Senior Social Club, which offers care and community services to seniors, falls are the most common accidents affecting seniors. One out of every three seniors aged 65 and older falls at least once a year.
In addition to working with doctors to improve mobility and modify medications that may cause unsteadiness, changes around the home can help. Grab bars placed in bathrooms and high-traffic areas can help seniors stay more stable when changing from sitting to standing positions. Rose suggested a grab bar should be placed at the entrance to the garage.
Potential tripping hazards should be assessed. Area rugs without nonskid backings, clutter on floors, extension cords that extend into walking areas, and uneven flooring pose tripping hazards. Anti-slip coatings can be added to floors to reduce the risk of tripping.
Rose said steps, even if it’s one step leading to a living room, should have a handrail. “Steps without a handrail are dangerous.”
Handrails will improve stability for people. Steps that are low-rise and wide tread where people can stand with a walker, can help older adults navigate steps easier and reduce the risk of a fall, Rose said. In addition, make sure the transition strip between a carpeted room is secured to the floor.
Taller people might consider installing a toilet that is two inches higher than a typical one, Rose said.
Poorly lit staircases and entryways also can contribute to falls. Consider the installation of motion-activated lighting so that dim areas can be automatically brightened when necessary. A nightlight or LED lights placed near molding can help guide seniors to the bathroom during midnight visits.
Rose suggested older adults should consider having someone come in and replace light bulbs for them. An older adult might fall if they are standing on a chair to replace a light bulb.
Arthritis can impede seniors’ ability to turn on and off appliances, water faucets or handle certain kitchen tools. Kitchen and bathroom modifications can include the installation of ergonomic and user-friendly handles and spigots.
Task lighting can make it easier to prepare meals, and appliances that automatically turn off after a certain period of time can be a safety feature for forgetful individuals.
Reorganize kitchen cabinets to make commonly used items as accessible as possible.
Rose also stressed that it’s important to change the furnace filter three to four times a year. “Your furnace is an expensive fixture in your home,” Rose said in an email, adding it’s critical to take care of the furnace filter, just like the lint trap in the dryer. “Don’t make your furnace work harder during those critical winter months, change the filter.”
Friends or family members can have greater control over seniors’ homes by installing smart home systems. This way they can remotely adjust thermostats, control lights, view cameras, engage locks or alarm systems, and much more without having to be at the home. This can allow seniors to maintain their independence while offering peace of mind to their loved ones.
Homage is the largest provider in Snohomish County of services for older adults and people with disabilities. More than 25,000 people benefit from Homage’s programs in food and nutrition, health and wellness, home repair, social services and transportation, according to its website.
Homage’s Minor Home Repair Program assists older adults with low or moderate incomes and disabled homeowners by providing health-and-safety-related repairs they couldn’t undertake due to a lack of funds or an inability to perform the work themselves.
Last year the Minor Home Repair Program completed more than 1,600 jobs. Rose encourages people to sign up early so paperwork doesn’t get in the way of an emergency. Applications last for one year.
For additional information, Homage can be reached at 425-265-2222 or online at www.homage.org.
Funding for the Minor Home Repair Program comes through community development block grants from Snohomish County, the city of Everett, the city of Marysville, funding from the city of Bothell and other private donations.