Dear Savvy Senior,
Falls and fires are the two things I worry most about for my elderly father who lives alone. Do you have any suggestions on what we can do to help keep him safe, and keep an eye on him from afar?
— Concerned Daughter
Of course! There are a number of small adjustments and modifications you can make to your dad’s home to help protect him from falls and fires, both of which cause thousands of injuries and deaths each year. Here are some tips to get you started.
• Eliminate tripping hazards: Since falls are the leading cause of home injury among seniors, a good place to start is to pack away your dad’s throw rugs, which are common tripping hazards, or use carpet tacks or double-sided tape to secure them. You may also need to adjust your dad’s furniture so there are clear pathways to walk through and position any electrical or phone cords along walls and out of the way.
For hardwood steps, consider attaching a nonslip tread to each one to provide traction and help him see the edge. And for added protection in the bathroom, buy some nonskid rugs for the floors and use adhesive nonslip treads or a mat with rubber suction inside his tub or shower stall.
• Improve his lighting: Good lighting is essential for safe aging-in-place, so check the wattage ratings on your dad’s lamps and light fixtures, and install the brightest bulbs allowed, and add supplementary lighting if necessary.
You should also purchase some dusk to dawn nightlights for the bathroom and in the hallways that light up when the sun goes down. And mount some motion sensor lights outside the front and back doors and in the driveway that automatically come on when he comes and goes after dark.
• Get grab bars: These can significantly reduce his risk of bathroom falls. Install them where he enters the shower or tub and on a wall inside the stall, but don’t use grab bars that attach with suction. Instead, have wall-mounted bars put in by someone who can affix them to the wall studs. It’s also best to choose bars whose surfaces are slightly textured and easier to grip.
• Ensure railings are stable: Wherever he has steps – stairways, entryways or basements – he needs sturdy railings. Ideally, they should be on both sides of the steps.
• Prevent cooking fires: There are several affordable products you can purchase to help your dad prevent home cooking fires like BurnerAlert discs that attach to a stove’s knob and will continuously blink or beep after the stove has been in use for a preset amount of time, and Ome smart knobs that can control a stove’s heating settings from an app. Or you can invest in a more expensive iGuardStove sensor that shuts the stove off when it doesn’t detect motion for five minutes.
• Install smoke alarms: Install a smart smoke alarm in your dad’s house (buy one for each floor) that will alert him when smoke or carbon monoxide is detected. These smart devices will also send alerts to your phone to let you know when a problem is detected. Google Nest and First Alert both smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
• Add fire extinguishers: Get portable multipurpose fire extinguishers for each level of your dad’s house and in the garage.
• Consider a medical alert: To ensure your dad’s safety and provide you some peace of mind, consider getting him a medical alert device that comes with a wearable SOS button that would allow him to call for help if he were to fall or need assistance.
For more tips, get a copy of AARP’s “HomeFit Guide” (see AARP.org/HomeFit), which has more than 100 aging-in-place suggestions that can help make your dad’s home safer and easier to live in.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.