The safer and more livable you make your home, the longer you can maintain your independence and avoid debilitating injuries. A host of commonsense precautions and modern design concepts can add convenience and remove risks.
Older adults have much to gain from a safer home: Falls are the leading cause of their injuries, and 75 percent occur in the home. Forty percent of all nursing home admissions are from falls. It's much better to prevent these injuries rather than treat them, experts say. Treatment runs $20 billion a year, and it's costly to patients in terms of their health and independence.
To cut injuries and boost livability, follow safety and design tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and the Center for Universal Design. Design ideas can be incorporated into homes new and old, often inexpensively.
Tips for the living room
Arrange furniture for clear pathways between rooms.
Remove low objects, such as coffee tables, from paths.
Remove throw rugs, or use rubber matting or double-faced adhesive carpet tape beneath them.
Make sure all pathways are free of clutter, including extension cords.
Repair loose flooring.
Switch door handles from round knobs to easier-to-use levers, or slip better-grip covers over knobs.
Put easy-access light switches, perhaps glow-in-the-dark models, at room entrances.
Use adjustable high and low closet rods.
Don't leave objects on stairs.
Don't place loose area rugs at top or bottom of stairs.
Keep flashlights nearby in case of power failure.
Design considerations: Add handrails to both sides of stairways.
Put light switches at top and bottom of stairs.
Consider motion-detector lights, which turn on automatically.
Provide adequate light to see each step, as well as top and bottom landings.
Use solid-colored carpeting, which shows step edges better.
Place non-slip treads on bare-wood steps.
Tips for kitchen safety
Immediately clean up liquid, grease or food spills.
Use nonskid floor wax.
Don't stand on chairs or boxes to reach upper cabinets. Use only step-stools with attached handrails.
Store food, dishes, and cooking equipment at a waist-high level.
Tips for kitchen design
Install removable base cabinets under sinks or elsewhere if someone in a wheelchair needs access to them.
Add variable-height work surfaces, pull-out drawers, or pull-out boards for more flat work space.
Use cabinets with a lazy Susan or a pull-out basket.
Buy a range with controls on front instead of top and back.
Buy a side-by-side refrigerator rather than a top-bottom model for easier freezer access.
In the bedroom
Place a lamp, flashlight, and telephone near your bed.
Install nightlights between bedroom and bathroom.
Use a telephone adapted for hearing or visually impaired elders. Keep phone numbers of significant others at bedside.