Fix It

By Sharon Naylor

November 4, 2011 6 min read

Seniors need to be safe in their homes, to prevent costly, life-impairing injuries and even death. If you're a senior living alone, or with your senior spouse or partner, or if you have elderly parents living in their own home, it's time to assess for serious safety risks that could be eliminated easily and inexpensively.

The Home Safety Council offers a new interactive tool on its website that you can use to take a virtual tour of each room in a home. The tour points out the leading causes of accidents in the home and provides smart tips for fixing these risky conditions.

*To Prevent Falls

According to the State of Home Safety in America 2004 survey conducted by the HSC, falls are by far the leading cause of unintentional home injury and death. Falls account for an average of 5.1 million injuries and nearly 6,000 deaths each year, says the HSC. According to Marian Anne Eure, former guide to senior health, "Experts estimate that over 300,000 people in the United States over the age of 65 will fracture a hip this year. Of that total number, up to 33 percent of those will die within one year of the fracture. Many of those who survive will have some form of reduced mobility and will have problems functioning independently."

Here are some fixes to help reduce the risk of falls:

--Make sure stairs in the home have handrails on both sides, and give them a firm shake to be sure the handrails are securely fastened to the wall. A senior who pulls himself up by the handrail could fall if that handrail were to separate from the wall. Use a screwdriver to tighten fastening screws, or call in a banister repair company to install new banisters.

--Be sure handrails extend from the top to the bottom of the stairway.

--Install or brighten lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs. Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, found at the home supply store may be affixed to the bottom steps if needed.

--"Paint the bottom basement step white to make it more visible. Mistaking the lowest step for floor level can cause you to lose your balance and fall," says the HSC's safety site.

--Remove any clutter or plant containers from interior and exterior stairs to eliminate tripping hazards.

--Install bright nightlights in the bedroom, bathroom, hallways and kitchen.

--If bathtub mats are old, they may have lost some of their suction grip beneath. Replace them with new, secure ones for less than $20 apiece.

--Replace fabric bathroom floor mats with those featuring nonskid, rubberized surfaces underneath. It's unsafe to set out a towel or step onto a tile floor with wet feet.

--Install or secure sets of grab bars in the shower and bathtub.

--Eure suggests installing an adjustable transfer bench on the side of a tub/shower combination to help seniors get in and out of the shower safely.

--Add or replace a shower seat or stool. Choose one for the senior's current weight and mobility.

--On outside porch steps, have any cracked steps repaired by a mason.

--Level outside walkway stones to prevent trips and falls.

*To Prevent Poisoning

--Improve the ability to tell one medicine bottle from another by asking for larger print labels at the pharmacy.

--Store cleaning solutions and other toxic chemicals in a completely separate location from food and drinks. Install an organizer bin under the sink or in a different cabinet so that there's no confusion between a yellow cleaner and apple juice.

--Have carbon monoxide detectors installed, checked and tested.

--Have a service person check heaters, stoves and fireplaces every year for carbon monoxide risks.

*To Prevent Fires and Burns

According to the State of Home Safety in America report, fires and burns are the third leading cause of unintentional home injury and related deaths.

--Remove paper towel dispensers and other flammables from the stove area, and install a new dispenser elsewhere.

--Move space heaters at least three feet away from walls, curtains, magazine racks and other flammables.

--Have the fireplace and chimney inspected and repaired each year.

--Fix and oil fireplace glass doors so that seniors can easily close them while fires are lit.

--Dispose of any blankets, throws or robes that have "flammable" tags on them.

--"Install smoke alarms on every level of your home. There are two kinds of smoke alarms -- photoelectric and ionization. If possible, get some of each kind or buy 'combination' smoke alarms that have both types of sensors," says the HSC.

--Test and change the batteries on smoke detectors each year.

--Set the water heater to no higher than 120 F to prevent scalding.

*To Prevent Crime

--Install solar lights around the outside of the house, and remove shrubs from fronts of windows to deter burglars.

--Install a lock on the mailbox to prevent identity theft.

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