Home Safety for the Elderly

Nancy Muller Health Pro
  • At NAFC, we remain perennially concerned about home safety for the elderly, particularly with regards to the risk factors for falling and their consequences. 

    Always on the lookout for advice to pass along, I recently came across a home safety "checklist" that I'd like to share from Pamalyn Kearney , a licensed occupational therapist (OT) and assistant professor and vice chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. 

    At NAFC, we are big promoters of the multidisciplinary role played by specially trained providers in continence care. This includes occupational therapists, professionals in a science-driven, evidence-based profession that enables people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health and prevent - or live better with - illness, injury, or disability. 

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    The OT, an advanced degree professional,  must complete masters of science or doctoral level of training in order to be certified in the field. Such graduate level training also requires clinical experience. The beauty of an OT is that his or her training bridges the study of physiology and anatomy with the practical realm of living and thus human quality of life, perhaps more so than any other discipline in healthcare.

    Kearney's recommendations for proven interventions that can reduce home falls and accidents by older adults are so helpful that I share them intact and thank her over the internet for this list:

    • Bathroom modifications: Install grab bars, shower seats, hand-held showers, and raised toilet seats in the bathroom;
    • Stair rails: Install railings on stairs, including basement stairs, and consider railings on both sides of the stairs;
    • Lighting: Increase the wattage of light bulbs (sorry, planet earth), for ambient and task lighting, while being careful to not increase glare. Add nightlights in the hallway between the bedroom and bathroom, as it takes time for eyes to adjust from darkness to bright light especially in the middle of the night when getting up to use the toilet;
    • Reduce glare: Add additional ambient light along the stairs;
    • Clear walkways: Remove things you can trip over, such as papers, books, clothes, and shoes, from stairs and places where you walk. Replace telephones with cordless sets to remove cords. Tack appliances cords along walls to remove them from walkways;
    • Increase contrast: Avoid low contrasting items, such as a white bathtub surrounded by white tiled walls, as this can make it difficult for someone with low vision to find the toilet. Add contrast as simple as a blue tub mat in a white bathtub; and
    • Heat safety: Check for air conditioners or fans, needed to help prevent heat stroke and dehydration in the elderly during the hot, summer season.

    While there are preventable strategies to help make the home safer for toileting and ambulation, especially at night among older adults, it is essential that diagnosis and treatment of nocturnal frequency of urination are addressed. There are behavioral strategies that work and treatment options to evaluate in conjunction with each prescription drug.  And contact NAFC for help finding a qualified OT in your area.


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    Bottom line:  Follow Pamalyn Kearney's sage advice for her aging relatives: 

    • Remove tripping hazards
    • Place frequently used items in easy reach
    • Evaluate lighting conditions and reduce glare
    • Install handrails and grab bars, but not just in the bathroom
    • Conduct a professional home evaluation to match your individual needs and habits. Call an OT!

    And I'll add my sixth point:  Get your OAB diagnosed and stick to a combination therapy of behavioral strategies and medications and/or minimally invasive devices. If you're a home caregiver, get your loved one plugged in. Above all, stay active, safely, as you age with the years not by the falls.


    Nancy Muller

Published On: June 08, 2009