Bringing aging parents into your home and creating a new multi-generational household is an exciting adventure that will surely change your home and your life. Creating a safe place for them to live and thrive will change, and perhaps even prolong, theirs as well.
Improving your senior household members’ quality of life will, of course, benefit them, but will also give you peace of mind. You’ll be able to sleep well at night knowing they’re safe and comfortable, tucked in their bed just down the hall.
So, what do you need to keep in mind when creating a safe home environment for your older loved ones? Here are a few tips to get you started.
Stay Safe Underfoot
Be sure area rugs are secure, so they do not become a tripping or slipping hazard. The professionals at your local carpet and rug store can help you with this – ask your builder representative for recommendations.
Also, the transition from one type of flooring should always be smooth, with no sharp edges or screws to snag unwary feet or unnecessary moulding.
Never leave cords running across the floor, either. Ask your builder about adding additional outlets to avoid ever running a cord across the floor, and about how to design your home so cords can run behind walls.
Finally, ask your builder what flooring options are most slip-resistant.
Keep Clutter Away
Children and pets and their clutter (backpacks, shoes, toys, dog bones, bowls, and more) can be hazardous if left on the floor where seniors walk. In a multi-gen home, you’ll want to train pets to mind their manners and not jump up on people, as some of them may be frail and can fall as a result. As for kids, ask older children to be mindful of where their “dumping ground” is – perhaps consider adding a mudroom for backpacks, shoes, and sporting equipment – and help younger children keep their items in designated spaces.
Some great rules of thumb for all household members: Get in the habit of never leaving anything on the floor. There are plenty of organization tips and tricks to keep traffic patterns clear of obstacles is paramount to the safety of all household members, especially the elderly.
Install Adequate Lighting
Natural light, ambient light, task lights, and night lights: They’re all useful and important. Light stairs with a switch at top and bottom or install night lights with sensors. Think about also lining hallways with night lights to make moving from the bedroom to the bathroom easier during the night. Ask your builder what options are available for motion-activated lights, night lighting for stairs and hallways, and under-toe lighting for kitchens and bathrooms.
Be Mindful of Bathroom Safety
According to Age Safe America, the bathroom is the #1 place for accidents in the home. To decrease the chance of accidents, add pull bars near the toilet and in the tub and shower. Consider choosing a step-in shower that doesn’t require a step up or over when entering. A tub/shower may seem ideal for bathing toddlers, but that combination may prove disastrous for seniors. Additionally, ask your builder what options are available for adding shower seating and lower shower head placement.
Keep Shelving Low, Easy to Open
Warn seniors, and others, to never stand on a ladder or chair, as they can quickly become unbalanced and fall. Encourage them to ask for help reaching for items or carrying things around the house, and emphasize how glad everyone is to help keep them safe.
To help with this, when designing your home, talk to your builder about adding plenty of lower cabinetry with easy-open hinges and easy-to-grip hardware. Have closet shelving installed at lower heights in bedrooms meant for older family members. You can also discuss lowering light switches if you have wheelchair-bound family members, as well as lowered sinks.
Keep the Kitchen Safe
Keeping seniors safe in the kitchen is extremely important. Keep a careful eye and guide your aging parents on ways to be safe while cooking. Be sure a fire extinguisher — one that’s light weight and easy for them to use — is readily accessible any time day or night. When choosing appliances, consider choosing an electric range rather than a gas stove that can catch wayward sleeves.
You can also choose a microwave built into a lower cabinet, rather than above the range, to give your older family members easier access to it and to prevent any dropped, hot food.
A note here about cookware and casserole dishes. Yes, folks love their cast irons, but they can be cumbersome and difficult to handle, and downright dangerous for seniors to lift, carry, and clean. Select cookware thoughtfully with safety in mind.
Think Safety Outside the House
Light the walkway from the car to the front door, and adequately light the front door itself. Opt for solar lights to ensure your lights are always on as soon as it becomes dark out, or perhaps motion sensor lights.
Install a shelf, or place a bench, for packages by the door so seniors don’t have to bend down to receive packages. If possible, install a ramp or otherwise mitigate steps to enter the house. All these will help keep our loved ones safe inside and outside the home.
Look to Professionals
Doing your part to keep aging parents safe is important, but you can’t do it all. Seek advice from your builder about to make it multi-generational friendly and accessible. Plans changed, and you are preparing to welcome senior household members that you hadn’t planned on? Reach out to your builder on how to upgrade your home to make it safer and more accessible. Reach out to medical experts if you have particular challenges or concerns for your family members.
This is not an exhaustive list of how to make a home senior-friendly, but is a great starting point if you have elderly family moving in soon. For more home tips, check out the Learn Center, and give us a follow on social media!
Joanna Dorman is a freelance writer with over 16 years of experience creating interior design, home building, home improvement, and real estate content. Additionally, she has 15 years of field experience in the interior design industry and trained in interior design at the Art Institute of Houston.