Help Your Aging Parent Remain Independent At Home With These Safety Tips
Most people want to stay in their own home as they age. That’s not surprising. The challenge is helping an aging parent remain in their own home safely. There are so many little challenges that come up and safety issues due to physical and cognitive changes from aging.
If your aging parent wants to stay in his/her home, there are ways to help them remain safe in their home as long as possible. Most of the changes aren’t expensive or too difficult to do, we just sometimes don’t think of them. You are probably a regular in your aging parent’s home – maybe you even grew up there. While there are many memories there, you probably are a little blind to safety issues since you know the space so well.
Safety Changes To Help Aging Parents Remain Independent
If you are planning to visit your aging parent this holiday season, keep an eye out for safety issues. Here are some safety updates you can make to their home.
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- Bathroom Upgrade: My parents recently remodeled their bathroom. They put in a higher toilet, which is easier for them to use and installed a shower stall. They aren’t at a point where they really need these safety upgrades, but they plan to stay in their home as long as possible and opted to make the changes now, versus later. If your aging parent can’t afford a complete renovation, you can still install grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower (some cities have free installation programs so ask your senior center). You can also put down a tub mat to prevent slipping in the tub and make sure that they have a non-stick rug for when they get out of the shower.
- Furniture Upgrades: Upgrading furniture isn’t just about home décor. If your aging parent has had their furniture for a long time, they may need to switch out a few pieces to make it easier to get up. We purchased a tall recliner for my dad last Christmas because he was struggling to get out of the lower arm chair. I had a former client who had very low furniture so she only sat at her dining room table because she had such a difficult time getting up from her couch. Keep an eye out for signs that your aging parent is struggling to get in or out of their favorite chair
- Entryway Upgrades: I had a client who had a screen door that wouldn’t open well, then a giant plant that she had to walk around to get to a light that was about 20 steps into her home. For so many reasons, that isn’t safe. She had always had her home that way, so it never occurred to her or anyone else to make her entryway safer. The next time you visit your aging parent, make sure that there is proper lighting at the front door, as well as once they get inside. There also shouldn’t be anything blocking or narrowing their home entrance. These are important changes both for fall safety and home security. Having a dark home entrance makes it really easy for someone to hide and overtake a home owner.
- Home Security: Since we’re on home security, some home security areas to address with your aging parent include outside lighting, locking all doors that lead into the home (including garage!) and ensuring their extra house key is well-hidden. These are all safety issues I saw with my clients. Some older adults are energy/cost conscious so they don’t like to leave an outside light on. The problem arises when they come home later than planned or as the time changes and it gets dark later. I also had many clients (and my own dad!) leave at least one door unlocked so that they couldn’t get locked out. Not safe! And finally, I had a client who had her spare key in an envelope labeled “spare key” under her back door mat. Way too easy to find. They should either give a spare key to a trusted neighbor or find one of those hollow rocks to hide the key (but put it far away from their front door!).
- General Home Safety: Be sure to do a fall proof walk through your aging parents home, as well as a fire safety check. In addition, look for things like super high (or low) storage. For example, my extra blankets are on a very high shelf. To get them down, I need to get a small step ladder and then pull the blanket bag from the top shelf. It isn’t easy at 41, imagine trying to do that at 85! If there are some things that just need to be stored up high or out of the way, be cognizant of when your parent will need them so you can get it for them. Be sure to keep frequently used items in an easy to access location, even if it isn’t a typical storage space. For example, we keep our crock pot in the linen closet since we don’t use it frequently. That leaves more cabinet space for things I use frequently so that I don’t have to store them in the high shelves that I can’t reach.
If you’re struggling to think of what safety issues your aging parent may have, think of the things you do in a week and try to imagine doing them when you are older or ill.