As we grow older, many of us need a little more support. And the best support begins at home by making the home safe for the elderly. In this article, we’ll guide you through a range of ways to improve the comfort, safety, and accessibility of your loved one’s home.
Our needs often increase as we age, so it’s important to think ahead: being prepared for illness, a fall, or hospital visit can make all the difference to your loved one’s wellbeing. Making small changes now can prevent you from having to make bigger ones later on—especially those which might cause your loved one distress, such as drastically changing their routine, or moving furniture and items in and around the home.
The first step is to call your GP. Your GP will be able to arrange a carer’s assessment or schedule a visit from your district nurse. Your district nurse may recommend the services of an occupational therapist, who will be able to identify the best equipment to maintain your loved one’s independence. Most of what you’ll need is available on the NHS, but you may choose to upgrade these items or seek additional aids.
Simple steps: things you can do early on to make the home safe
Make common items more easily accessible:
This will reduce the risk of falls, strains and sprains, from which your loved one may struggle to recover. Rearranging anyone’s belongings is a difficult task, but it becomes an especially hard task when it’s the home of a loved one. Before you begin, talk with your loved one about what would work best for them, explaining the benefits in a sensitive way. Be sure to ask them what items they use on a daily or weekly basis: common items include food, medicines, the kettle, mugs and dishes, and the fridge. Make sure these items are easily within reach—below the chest and above waist height is ideal. It’s also important to consider whether the cooker is safe for your loved one to use.
Consider equipping the home with additional aids:
It’s important to make sure your loved one can carry out their daily tasks as independently as possible. Additional aids, such as walking frames, kitchen devices, and bathroom supports can make all the difference when mobility and co-ordination begin to deteriorate.
Reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls:
As we get older, things which once seemed harmless may pose risks. To reduce the danger of slipping, consider removing any rugs or mats. Carpets should be checked for frayed edges and fixed to the floor with good-quality carpet tape. Keep a roll of kitchen tissue in each room for clearing up small spillages. A sponge mop is also useful for larger spills. Be sure to the kitchen and bathroom floors for wet floors, too. In the winter months, consider purchasing a simple outdoor mat for wet shoes, and ask that visitors remove their footwear before entering the house. And finally, make sure all wires and cables are safely tucked away to avoid trips or falls, especially if external heaters are used during winter.
Keep the house warm and dry:
Growing older, our immune systems begin to weaken. Because of this, elderly people are more susceptible to colds and other illnesses. An easy way to reduce the threat posed to your loved one’s health by cold and damp is to ensure the house is warm. This may cost a little extra but will make a big difference to your loved one’s wellbeing. Periodically running a dehumidifier in the bedroom and living room is also worthwhile: by both warming the house and removing water from the air, regularly running a dehumidifier reduces the chance of developing a pulmonary disease.
Seek some additional help:
Even the best of us need a little help sometimes. Be it yourself, a family member, a neighbour or a friend, ensuring that your loved one has someone who they can depend on for odd jobs around the house or larger errands is one of the most important steps you can take for your loved one’s safety and well-being. For many, a private carer is also a good option.
- Cleaners: Especially if your loved one suffers from decreased mobility, a cleaner can be incredibly helpful in dealing with day-to-day tasks, such as making the bed or washing the sheets. Often, cleaners will be happy to undertake other simple tasks, such as checking the fridge is stocked.
- Gardeners: It’s important to ensure all garden pathways are kept clear and bushes cut back, to prevent any accidents or injuries. Not only will a gardener be able to keep your loved one’s garden presentable, but they’ll also be reducing many hazards, such as briars and branches, in doing so. This will also reduce the risk of door-to-door salespeople seeing the house as an easy target: untidy front gardens are often taken as a sign that the occupant is either not in, or is vulnerable If the garden has a slope leading to the front door, it may also be necessary to install a handrail. Many local councils offer grants to assist in installation. For further information, visit: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/care/housing-options/adapting-home/disabled-facilities-grants/
- Neighbours: Often, your next-door neighbour will be happy to help with simple errands, such as checking in on your loved one, putting out their bins on collection days, or simply serving as an emergency point of contact, should any issues arise.
If the needs of your loved one increase
Returning home from the hospital, recovering from a fall, a spell of illness—there are many reasons why your loved one may require a little more help. Should the needs of your loved one increase significantly, it might be time to consider bringing in a carer, who will be able to tend to your loved one n a routine basis.
Your loved one may need help in some of the following key areas:
- Bathing and showering: Bath lifts and bathing cushions are helpful in raising and lowering your loved one into the bath. If the accessibility requirements of your loved one change significantly, you may prefer to replace the bath with a shower or wet-room, and consider installing a seat, rails and a non-slip floor.
- Toileting: A higher toilet seat may help your loved one, reducing the distance needed to lower and raise themselves.
- Sitting and lying: Air cushions for beds and chairs can be very helpful in protecting the skin from bedsores (a common ailment for those with limited mobility) and are often prescribed by doctors. In some cases, a hospital bed may even be recommended.
- Walking: Slippers and Velcro shoes can make putting on and removing shoes less difficult. Handrails of different shapes and sizes, situated throughout the house, can also help your loved one move between rooms.
- Sharp edges: If falls are likely, soften sharp edges (such as table corners and door handles) with protectors. These are often used for small children, and so are easily and cheaply purchased.
- Cooking: Microwave ovens are much easier and safer to use than conventional ovens and can help your loved one cook and eat independently, especially in cases where the gas has been terminated by a registered tradesman. If your loved one’s kettle is of an older style, consider replacing with a more up-to-date model: most modern kettles are much easier and safer to lift than their older counterparts. As mentioned earlier, ensure all food items are easily within reach (preferably on lower shelves), and ensure that, if your loved one owns a fridge-freezer, the fridge is on top.
Be sure to consult with your occupational therapist regularly, as much of the above can be provided for free by the NHS.
Depending on your loved one’s requirements, further adaptations may also be necessary:
- Moving downstairs: Should your loved one’s mobility be severely decreased, you may wish to consider moving them downstairs, to reduce the risk of falling. In this instance, you may also need to think about commodes. With commodes, your loved one’s dignity is paramount, especially when it comes to the time and location of its use. Nappy sacks and bin liners are also useful when disposing of incontinence pads, and with many of these products being scented, disposal can be relatively discreet. Some councils supply yellow bin liners, which will then be collected by a clinical waste team and incinerated. Red laundry bags can also be purchased for soiled sheets and can be placed directly into the washing machine to reduce handling.
- Key-safes: It’s useful to have a spare key locked in a key-safe, to enable you or your neighbours to access your loved one’s home in the case of an emergency. Key-safes can be cheaply and easily purchased and are often programmed with a code, which you may then choose to share with a neighbour or carer.
- Video entry systems: Home security cameras can allow you to monitor who is passing through your loved one’s home. Footage can be easily checked from a laptop or mobile device.
- Lifelines: Lifelines are worn around the wrist or neck and can be pressed in the case of an emergency. These devices are linked to an immediate-response service. Your loved one will quickly be put in contact with a trained assistant, who may then alert the 999, or your loved one’s designated carer. Lifelines can be set to higher levels of sensitivity for those prone to falls. Searching online will give you further information on how these services operate in your local area.
- Phones: You may also consider replacing your loved one’s phone with a specialised mobile or landline. These can be pre-programmed to speed-dial, have large keypads, and extra-loud volume controls.
- Touch lights: With fewer cables and no on/off switch to locate, touch lights are a cheap and easy way to improve the accessibility of your loved one’s home.
All of these products can be purchased online, and are often available from your local supermarket.
For further guidance on improving the safety of your loved one’s home, visit: