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Keeping Our Elderly Loved Ones Safe At Home

For a senior with limitations in sight, hearing, and movement, a home can be a hazardous place. Let's take a tour of the average house, and see what improvements can make the home safer.

Grey Siding House with Wheelchair Ramp

The Entryway

1. Motion-Activated Outdoor Lighting - A motion-activated incandescent light can automatically illuminate a dark path, yard, or garage when it detects movement. If there is an existing incandescent bulb, it can be replaced with a magnetic ballast bulb. The replacement light should be at least 150 watts. If a pre-existing light is not present, a handy adult can do the installation. Alternatively, you can call a licensed electrician.

2. Walkway - Repair cracked or uneven surfaces on the walkway to the house. If stairs are no longer negotiable, you can have a ramp installed.

3. Railings - Rails should be present on both sides of the stairs. They should be at least 1-1/2 inches in diameter for ease of gripping.

4. Inside Catch-All - An over-the-door plastic organizer makes a handy place for unloading items. Your loved one can place keys, gloves, a hat, etc. in the pockets upon entering the house. This provides safer hands-free movement.

Living Room

1. Floors - For fall-proof floors, it's best to remove scatter rugs, eliminate carpet bulges, and keep floors clutter-free. Extension, lamp, and telephone cords can trip feet and should be secured against walls. Automatic night lights ensure safer walking in the dark.

2. Furniture - Enable your loved one to easily navigate the room by ensuring adequate space around furniture. Remove low coffee tables, as they can trigger bumps, bruises, and falls. Couches and chairs should feature armrests, to provide support when rising. Seating low to the floor makes it hard to stand up, so try to make appropriate adjustments.


1. Easy Accessibility - Lazy Susans on counters and roll-out trays in cabinets make for easier reaching. Kitchen appliances should have simple push buttons and easy-to-read control panels. A wall or side-swing oven provides for easy access and lifting over a conventional oven. Pantry items should be at easy-to-reach heights. A lightweight reacher can also facilitate removing shelved objects.

2. Fire Protection - Be sure the kitchen has a smoke detector. Also, invest in a small, multi-purpose fire extinguisher. carries a "Fire Extinguisher," which is rated for all types of fires.

3. Hot Water Safety - Scalding is a major concern. Setting the water heater temperature to 120 degrees will prevent scalding and save energy. A single-lever tap makes it easier to moderate water temperature.

Stair Lift


A stair lift is an ideal solution to difficulty negotiating steps. It consists of a chair mounted to stair treads that safely carries a person up a flight of stairs. Stair lifts consist of two types - straight and curved. A straight stair lift moves in a straight line up the stairs. The cost, including installation, ranges from $3,000-$5,000. A curved lift accommodates bends and corners. The complexity of the installation accounts for a higher cost, ranging between $10,000-$15,000. Easily operated controls are located on the armrest.

A "call/send" feature enables you to call or send the device to the other end of the staircase. Two types of power sources are available, electricity or battery. Battery-operated units have the advantage of being smoother, quieter, and operational in a power failure.

The most reputable suppliers of stair lifts are Bruno, Stannah, Harmar, and Sterling.


1. Floor - 70% of accidents in the home take place in the bathroom. A nightlight will make this less likely. Scatter rugs need to be removed.

2. Shower/Tub - The tub surface should have an anti-slip bath mat or adhesive strips. Permanent grab bars on the walls provide for safer transfers. An alternative is a bathtub rail that mounts on the tub ledge. A floor-to-ceiling vertical rod or safety pole can help with balance difficulties. A shower chair or bench enables safe, seated bathing. A hand-held shower hose that attaches to the tub tap makes bathing easier.

3. Toilet - If it is difficult for your loved one to get up from a low toilet seat, a raised toilet is an alternative. A toilet riser can be mounted on a porcelain base to increase toilet height. It should feature a locking clamp that keeps the toilet securely on the rim. Models are available with hand rails, or you can install a safety frame around the toilet. An over-the-toilet commode has 3 features - a raised toilet seat, safety frame, and pail. For the person who is unable to get to the bathroom safely, a bedside commode can substitute. Toilet paper holders that attach to a commode leg resolve a reaching problem.


1. Lighting - A touch lamp at the bedside makes for rapid, easy access to light. There should also be at least one night light in the room.

2. Telephone - A cell phone or land-line phone should be within reach.

3. Furniture - At least one secure chair with armrests should be in the room.

4. Bed - The height of the bed should be low enough for easy entrance and exit. Electric beds enable your loved one to adjust the bed angle and height via keypad touch. Some also feature overhead bar systems with suspended loops that facilitate getting up in bed. Acute Health Care is a retailer of electric beds, with 4 home models available:

  • Viscount - Features a "Monkey Bar" to facilitate sitting up in bed.
  • Prosaic - Has separate controls for back elevation and behind-the-knee support.
  • Prelude - Has a "Pistol Grip" rail.
  • 5000 Series - With electric forward and reverse.



A medical alert system enables your loved one to contact a responder in an emergency. By activating a pendant or transmitter, a signal is sent to a monitoring company. Medical personnel are then dispatched to the site of emergency to provide medical assistance. The service is provided for a monthly fee. Some companies also require a contract commitment. Some top-rated medical alert systems are:

  • Bay Alarm Medical - $21 per month; also provides discount with AARP
  • Medical Guardian - $27 per month; with fall detection technology available
  • ADT - $29 per month; AARP and USAA members are eligible for a discount
  • Rescue Alert - $20-$28 per month, with EMT-Certified Responders


Technology is available enabling you to keep your finger on the pulse of your loved one. Sensors can be installed within the home that generate a continuous report of activity. The sensors pick up any changes in normal living patterns and alert you to them. The home monitoring system is especially helpful for families separated by long distances. Two companies that offer this technology are West Bend and Wellaware.

Sometimes home modifications are made only after a crisis, such as a fall, occurs. But you can plan ahead, using some of the above suggestions, to avert disaster and keep your loved one safe and sound at home.

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