For seniors who want to age in place, the home they’ve known for years can easily become a place full of hazards. The smallest piece of furniture or carpeting may cause a fall, which can have disastrous consequences for seniors who’ve lost strength and flexibility or who suffer from diminished eyesight. Most seniors prefer aging in place, but it requires taking careful precautions, as one in four Americans age 65 and over suffers a fall every year, according to the National Council on Aging. Fortunately, there are many modifications — both environmental and personal — that can make it safer to age in place.
There are plenty of tripping hazards in the cleanest of homes. Remove rugs, footstools, and small tables, and secure electrical cords along the wall. Pay particular attention to the bathroom, where most in-home falls occur. Place slip-free surfaces in front of the sink and toilet and in the shower or bathtub. If it’s in the budget, consider having a walk-in bathtub installed with safety rails, which should also be firmly anchored to the wall alongside the toilet.
Just because you’re living alone doesn’t mean you have to age in isolation. In fact, staying in contact with family, friends, and neighbors is a good way to stay safe. Identify someone nearby who can check up on you, a neighbor you can call if there’s an accident. If loved ones live far away, forging friendships with neighbors can help keep loved ones at ease knowing help is near at hand. If loneliness is a problem, consider getting a dog or cat as a constant companion. Service pets can be very helpful to an older adult with a disability or mobility limitations.
Older adults often suffer from reduced eyesight, which can lead to falls in darkened areas, such as a stairwell or dimly lit hallway. Make sure that such areas are well illuminated with bright bulbs that don’t cause glare (motion-activated lights are often good ideas, especially in the bedroom and bathroom). Additionally, night lights can also help prevent accidents when a senior has to make a trip to the bathroom during the night.
You can clear walkways and brighten halls, but a senior living alone is still at risk of suffering a fall. One of the best ways to avoid falls is to work on balance exercises to promote stability. There are a number of exercises that can help strengthen the lower body and make it easier to maintain balance. Toe stands strengthen both your lower legs and your core, and they are very easy to do and can be done almost anywhere. Hold onto the back of a chair for balance, and then stand straight with knees slightly bent. Push up onto tiptoes as high as you can go, and slowly lower your heels back to the floor. Repeat this exercise at least 10 times.
If you prefer to exercise outside of the home, look to walking groups or fitness centers with classes geared toward seniors. In fact, take some time to check out your healthcare coverage. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you may have access to Silver Sneakers, a popular exercise program implemented at more than 13,000 facilities across the country. Plus, this program provides a wealth of exercise classes that can help improve balance and strength. If you don’t have access to SilverSneakers through your MA plan, many plans (such as those from Aetna) will cover wellness programs.
Home security systems can do more these days than simply protect your home from a break-in. Monitoring equipment and motion sensors, for instance, can help family members keep tabs on an older relative, and many security systems include smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. A personal medical alert device, a personal device that a senior can activate if help is needed, adds yet another layer of security and peace of mind.
Aging in place is something many seniors strive to achieve, but it’s not a situation to be entered into heedlessly. It takes forethought and the ability to identify potential problems. Careful planning and attention to detail can create a safe living environment and allow seniors who decide to aging in place to enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle.
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Article by Hazel Bridges