Making Home Safer for Seniors: A Room-By-Room Assessment

Marlo Sollitto  

Evaluating a senior’s ability to safely age in place is a complex process. Older adults want to stay in their homes rather than move to assisted living or other adult care communities, however each senior has their own needs and concerns regarding functioning independently at home.

One approach to creating a safer environment for seniors is applying the methods of universal design. Universal design focuses on designing, constructing or adapting buildings, products and environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age or disability.

Home Modifications for Aging in Place

General Household Safety Tips

  • Move furniture to clear walking paths.
  • Make light switches accessible by placing them no higher than 48 inches and replacing toggle switches with rocker style
  • Improve overall lighting in the home. Light dark pathways or countertop areas with easy to install rope lighting. Add task lights and night lights wherever needed.
  • Replace doorknobs with levered handles or pulls or add doorknob grips.
  • Mark changes in floor levels with tape or paint in a high-contrast color.
  • Remove loose carpeting and unnecessary throw rugs. Fasten down area rugs with double-sided rug tape.
  • Remove all electric, cable and extension cords that run across or near walkways. If necessary, place electric cords behind furniture.
  • Replace unsteady chairs with chairs that have sturdy arms to make transitioning from sit-to-stand easier.
  • Lock thermostats to control temperature.
  • Remove clutter by donating or disposing of items that are no longer of use.
  • Make sure trash receptacles are easily accessible from inside the home and can be brought to the curb without obstruction.
  • Repurpose a closet or other area on the main living level to make laundry machines accessible. Replace top-loading machines with front-loading appliances that are easier to use. If necessary, laundry can be outsourced to a per pound laundry service or added to the tasks completed by a personal home care aide.
  • Ensure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are placed in all key areas. Test them and change batteries regularly.

Bathroom Safety Tips for Seniors

  • Install grab bars for additional support while toileting and while getting into and out of the shower/bath.
  • Abundant lighting for the overall space as well as tasks is essential. Special waterproof incandescent lights should be placed in the ceiling of a shower and over a tub for extra visibility.
  • Set the hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, clearly label hot and cold faucets and consider installing anti-scald devices on faucets to prevent burns.
  • Showers should have a step-free entry. There are step-in tub models available that feature a door for easy entrance and exit. The shower should be fitted with a seat, a hand-held shower sprayer, and a niche to hold soap and shampoo at a level that can be reached easily.
  • Floors should be slip-resistant wood, vinyl, or tile with a lot of grout for traction. Add non-skid decals to any slippery areas in the bathroom.
  • All cabinets and drawers should be fitted with levers or pulls rather than knobs.
  • A comfort-height toilet model should be selected that is 2 inches higher than normal and easier to transfer onto from a wheelchair. A toilet seat riser can be added to an existing toilet.
  • Lighting modifications along a hallway can provide a clear path to a bathroom in the dead of night when eyesight is failing.
  • Curbless showers with a bench allow someone to roll a wheelchair in and bathe.