Safety and Your Elderly Loved One: Is Staying at Home a Viable Choice?

It’s natural for elderly people to want to remain in their own homes. After all, they have often lived there for decades and have many memories associated with both the dwelling and the neighborhood. Yet moving to a nursing home or assisted living community sometimes makes the best sense for a person’s health and well-being.

How do you as a caregiver decide whether it’s safe for your loved one to remain at home? This article will discuss some of the key factors to keep in mind.

The Neighborhood

The first thing to look at is the location of the home. Is it isolated from city services, fire departments, medical facilities and retail stores? If it’s not easy for the senior to get what they need in terms of groceries, medications and other essentials, they’ll be challenged in maintaining their independence.

It’s also important to look at how the neighborhood may be changing. There may be drugs and other problems that people are either not seeing or are choosing not to see. As a caretaker, it’s critical that you do some deeper investigation to find out what’s going on. If the neighborhood is deteriorating and crime is increasing, it may not be safe for your loved one to continue to live there.

The Danger of Falling

The interior of the home can present a smorgasbord of safety hazards for your loved one. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 2.8 million older people are treated in emergency rooms each year for injuries from a fall. What’s more, over 800,000 patients a year in the U.S. are hospitalized, and one out of five falls causes a serious injury, such as broken bones or head trauma.

Such sobering statistics shine a light on how important it is to evaluate your elderly loved one’s home environment for potentially hazardous conditions. Loose rugs and a lack of good lighting can be extremely dangerous to someone with impaired sight or mobility problems. As people age, they may be less agile and not able to easily step over loose rugs. Take a look at the floor surface under any throw rugs. If the area is slick or is carpeted with heavy shag, it can make getting around difficult. Poor lighting compounds the danger of slipping and falling from floor coverings.

Stairs can become difficult to navigate for an older person, which increases their risk of falling. Sturdy rails should be installed for all indoor and outdoor stairs, and staircase steps should have a nonslip surface. Additionally, all staircases should be well lit and include light switches at both the top and bottom for easy accessibility.

Other Home Safety Hazards and Considerations

While falling is one of the greatest risks to seniors living alone at home, there are additional safety hazards to keep in mind. Electrical outlets and extension cords can be problematic. Outlets should be plentiful enough to avoid having to use too many extension cords, and extension cords should not be lying in the walking paths of the house. Cords not only pose a trip hazard but can also be the source of an electrical fire if they are overloaded, frayed or running underneath rugs.

If your loved one spends most of their day in one area of the house, check to see that they can get to the bathroom and prepare lunch on their own.

If an emergency were to arise, could a senior who has difficulty walking or uses a wheelchair get out of the house by themselves?

Also, are the heating and cooling systems in the home able to meet your elderly loved one’s needs? If a house is too cold, a furnace check might be in order or perhaps an update to the insulation in the attic.

Consider the general maintenance of the house. Is there anything that may be jeopardizing the safety or functional ability of your loved one? Finally, don’t forget to look at the outside of the home. There should be adequate parking close by, and the sidewalk and entrance leading up to the front door should be in good shape.

Additional Resources

While I have covered some of the key considerations in deciding whether it’s safe for your loved one to stay in their home, there are many more factors to look into. Here are a few checklists of the hazards that seniors can encounter and how to avoid them. These resources can help you to further evaluate the safety of your loved ones:

Knowing what your loved one’s environment is like can help in making major decisions for their future. The condition or accessibility of a house could be the deciding factor for whether someone stays or moves. Don’t assume a move is a foregone conclusion. Looking at how your senior relative goes about their day-to-day life could yield ideas for simple adaptations of equipment that help them stay home.