Making living spaces safe for seniors

Woody Huizenga

A lamp on a nightstand

Make bedrooms safer by ensuring a lamp is placed within easy reach of the bed.

Be proactive. Don’t wait until a slip or fall to take a good look at your living quarters. Every home — yours or theirs — where a senior spends a great deal of time must be adapted for comfort and safety.

Light up living spaces

  • Light rooms, hallways, entrances, walkways and (especially) stairways well.
  • Install night lights in bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways.
  • Have a lamp within easy reach of the bed.
  • Replace traditional light switches with glow-in-the-dark models.
  • Use light bulbs at the highest wattage recommended for the fixture.
  • Keep flashlights in any room where people spend time after dark.
  • Use task lighting for cooking, crafts or reading.

Remove or secure anything that could cause a stumble or a slip

  • Tack or tape area rugs and loose carpets to the floor, or remove them entirely.
  • Watch for small furniture, pet bowls, electrical or phone cords and other clutter that might cause a fall.
  • Arrange furniture to provide plenty of walking space. Remove items from stairs, hallways and pathways.
  • Put non-slip strips or a rubber mat on the floor of your bathtub or shower.
  • Get into a tub or shower with your weaker leg first. Get out strong side first.
  • Wear low-heeled, comfortable shoes that fit well and give your feet good support.
  • When you're carrying something, be sure you can see where you are stepping.

Install ramps, bars and railings

  • Install railings strong enough to support a person's full body weight on both sides of staircases. Railings should extend beyond the top and bottom steps and along walkways.
  • Place grab bars in tubs and showers, and next to the toilet, to help you get in and out and up and down.
  • Place non-skid mats inside and outside your shower or tub and near the toilet and sinks. Use shower chairs, bath benches and high toilets.
  • Avoid stairs if possible. If steps are necessary, they should be deep and flat for easy balance. But it’s best to keep everything on one level.
  • Use taller chairs when possible. Higher seating makes it easier to get up and down.
  • Put rubber tips on walkers, canes or crutches.

Organize your living spaces

  • A well-designed kitchen will have everything within reach. Shorten the distances between utilities and appliances and reduce the effort involved in food preparation.
  • Make it easy to reach the things used most often. Use a reaching device to access higher shelves.
  • Use easily turned levers rather than knobs on faucets.
  • Kitchen cabinets should be low, with sliding doors that require less manual dexterity.
  • Leave plenty of room for food preparation.

Doors, phones and emergencies

  • Install doorbells and telephones with long, low-pitched rings.
  • Use a telephone with large, easily read numbers.
  • Make sure fire-escape routes are unobstructed and well lit.
  • Make sure the home has a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Make sure there is a smoke detector on every floor and outside every bedroom.
  • If someone is apt to wander, consider installing a door chime or alarm.