1. Keep necessities low and horizontal
2. Downsize to cooking for one
Using a microwave regularly is not only easier, but can prevent lifting heavy, hot pans from the oven to a higher surface like a countertop or table. Microwaves can be easily plugged in on a countertop, too, or installed easily underneath a counter by a contractor.
Reducing the number of dishes one has that need to be stacked, too, can go a long way to simply reusing the same ones over and over, advises Pynoos.
3. Prevent bathroom hazards
While kitchens may be a fall hazard because there’s a risk of water falling on a hard floor, the biggest trip hazard by far is the bathroom, says Pynoos.
He advises having a professional install grab bars and a higher, “comfort height” toilet.
Another simple fix is putting in a bath mat—but only those with non-slip grips. Ideally, though, seniors would update their flooring when appropriate.
“It’s always better to have areas more illuminated than not,” says Pynoos. “However, shiny porcelain surfaces create glare and sometimes you can’t see that there’s water on the floor.”
Larger grout and some of the newer, slip-resistant ceramic or porcelain options (or even affordable and cushier vinyl flooring) is what Bawden recommends.
4. Keep your floor as level as possible
Carpet isn’t the be-all and end-all to brace a fall, says Pynoos — in fact, it can sometimes be worse than other flooring options.
“People like fluffy designer carpets, but if you’re thinking of the future, the flatter the better,” he explains. “Everything should be as flat and as level as possible, because you won’t see wear and tear, wheelchairs and walkers can move over it, and you won’t trip.”
It’s also best to get rid of accent rugs that aren’t permanently installed. “I was in a really nice home where a lady put a carpet on the carpet to cover a stain—having those edges there to trip over isn’t worth the risk,” Pynoos says.
5. Beware of pets
It may seem like common sense, but the same kind of companion that can create small messes can also lead to bigger trouble. Pets—and their toys and food—are “fall hazards running around,” says Pynoos.
He advises putting a small bell on animals’ collars.
Since kibble and water can be “slobbered all over,” having a mat for food that’s not in a common pathway is ideal.
And, as for toys, Pynoos—who has three dogs—makes a concerted effort to put away all of their playthings at night in a special box. Bright colors are best, especially reds and yellows, since seniors tend to be color-blind in the blue/green range.
6. Invest in longer lasting lights
Vibrant lighting is just as important as how it’s powered. LED bulbs last longer, which reduces the need for someone to help climb a ladder and change them, says Pynoos. LEDs are also brighter, and dim lighting can be challenging for those with aging eyes.
Going cordless can also be a huge help, because it reduces tripping risks, says David Karas, a contractor based in Massachusetts. But, like Pynoos, he also cautions that glossy flooring might cause a reflective glare with brighter lights.
Pynoos says that “one of the best” things to have a professional install is motion-sensor strip lights for those twilight trips to the bathroom. Another (more inexpensive) fix is battery-operated task lights that have adhesive strips that homeowners can affix themselves.
7. Keep your outdoor area bright and steady
Proper lighting should extend to both inside and outside the home, says Pynoos—where weatherization is key, especially at thresholds. It’s there that going from a dry to a wet surface can be slippery, and raised surfaces can create trip hazards.
“It’s best to have a light on the first and second step, if you can have it both inside and outside your house, the better,” he advises.
Stairs can be especially dangerous, because “falling from a height could injure a knee or involve a head injury,” says Pynoos.
He advises investing in upgrading exterior stairs that may have cracks or chips, and also adding handrails on both sides that arthritis-prone seniors can grip.
8. Follow doctor’s orders
Neither retirees nor their loved ones without training should expect to be experts when it comes to home safety assessments, says Pynoos.
He recommends getting a referral from a doctor for an occupational therapist to come on-site and perform assessments. The service is usually covered by insurance.
Falls are also not strictly related to seniors’ environment, he advises.
“The reality of falls is we can do everything to improve the environment, but falls are multi-causal. Your doctor should ask you what medications you take and whether they make you dizzy. They should monitor your gait and see if you need a walker or a cane,” he says. “Safety is not as ‘easy’ as making a bathroom wheelchair accessible.”
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