Give Your Loved One's Home a Safety Makeover

Home for the holidays! Are you making plans to get together with family during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or other winter celebrations? Eldercare specialists know that this is the time of year when families often notice that their senior relatives are struggling to be safe and comfortable at home. Perhaps an older loved one can no longer handle home maintenance, or has suffered an injury from a fall, or is having trouble navigating the front steps?

It is true that many accidents at home are caused by unsafe conditions. Over half of all injuries to seniors happen at home, and fear of falling may cause your loved one to become less active. Families can help by performing repairs and adding features that can make life safer—and a little easier all around—for a person with mobility problems or sensory impairment. Here are some steps to take:

  • Make sure roof, gutters, stairs and railings are in good repair. Inspect and upgrade plumbing, electrical, heat and air conditioning systems if necessary.
  • Perform a safety inspection of the home. What improvements can be made?

o    Non-slip, non-glare flooring
o    Low-pile carpeting
o    Handrails on both sides of stairs
o    Grab bars in bathroom
o    Additional lighting and night lights
o    View-hole in front door
o    Good quality locks on doors and windows

  • For accessibility and independence, add…

o    Easy-grip knobs and pulls in kitchen
o    Rocker or touch-type switches
o    Wheelchair or walker access
o    Lever or control-arm taps in kitchen and bathroom
o    Cordless phone
o    Automatic garage door opener

  • If necessary, re-arrange the house for one-story living.
  • Make energy-efficient improvements such as storm windows, double-paned windows, weather-stripping, insulation on pipes and water heater, and more efficient appliances.

You can fix some things by yourself or with the help of handy friends, but doing it yourself is not always the best way to go. Poorly planned and built features can prove useless, or even dangerous. For example, a ramp that is too steep and lacks safety features is worse than no ramp at all. Grab bars that are not solidly anchored can cause rather than prevent falls.

If you are hiring a handyman or contractor to do some of the work for you, be certain the person or company you select is reliable and trustworthy:

  • Ask for references and check them.
  • Get recommendations from friends who have had similar work done.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau, the state consumer affairs office, and the local licensing board, if applicable.
  • Ask to see some of the contractor's completed projects.
  • Get a written agreement, and don't pay the full agreed price until the work is completed to your satisfaction.
  • Get bids from several contractors—but remember, the lowest bid isn't always the best choice.

Important note: Older adults are often targeted by unscrupulous contractors and service providers. Be wary of door-to-door repair sales. A common scam is for a salesperson to come to a senior's door, claiming that his company is working on a job in the neighborhood and offering to do work on the senior's house for a low rate. The salesman might claim to have spotted dangerous conditions that should be taken care of "right away." But when the work is completed (if it ever is completed), the services and materials usually turn out to be shoddy and not to code. Never agree to any services until you have checked out the company.