There are many things you can do to prevent falls in the home along with making it safer and easier for your parents or relatives stay longer in their own home. Some of these changes are really simple and cheap, yet, some are more complex and costly. You will need to assess how much needs doing, depending on their current health and mobility, and on the home they live in at the moment considering stairs, safety gates and rails and upkeep of gardens etc.
You can get some help in doing this assessment if your relative is in hospital or if the GP is advising them to look at options for care. This is called a ‘home assessment’ and is carried out by a team from social services and occupational therapy. Some or all of any changes could be funded, such as a toilet frame, bed hoist, and alterations such as grab rails, ramps.
Checklist for Adapting the House
Not an exhaustive list, but making a few small changes may help with making life easier at home and preventing falls. Some of it is not very pretty to look at unfortunately, and may make your family home resemble more of a care home, but needs must – and definitely worth it for independence at home.
Front Door and general access
If climbing the steps to the front door are difficult then a ramp would give better access. Make sure it has a non-slippery surface, and of course make any “joins” into the front door or on to a garden path/driveway are as smooth as possible. For someone living with dementia or with anxiety about their mobility and walking with a frame or sticks, different surfaces can be confusing, so minimising these are really important.
As well as replacing steps with ramps you could make the doorways the larger standard size, so you can get a wheelchair through; don’t forget to make the front door extra wide too.
External Key Safe
A ‘must have’ so you or a neighbour/carer can get access to the house quickly and safely if necessary (make sure the door cannot be locked from the inside with the key left in the lock – or put a key hook hidden, but near the inside of the front door for the keys if it is locked from the inside). A keysafe is also the obvious place to store the spare front door keys so they don’t go missing! Just make sure the access code is easy to remember – and known by those who need it, but not so easy for unauthorised access.
Raised Post Box
Simple changes like installing a raised post box can really help – no more bending down to pick up letters from the doormat every day – a bonus if you’re a bit creaky or unsteady.
Personal Alarm System (linked to a local helpline)
Personal Alarms are a great help for elderly people who have falls regularly, and huge peace of mind for the rest of the family. With alarm pendants to be worn – and activated – so help is not so far away. Alarms like these are called Telecare – and we’ve a section on all the different types that are available.
A stairlift or a lift
If climbing the stairs becomes an increasing concern, then a stairlift or a small internal lift might be the answer. There are many different types and at different price points too, so shop around. The clothes designer Zandra Rhodes apparently has a customised zebra-print painted stairlift – so you could always follow her lead! Household lifts are also worth investigating as many don’t require enormous amounts of room to install. However, it might be worth considering that should a wheelchair be used – a bigger lift area might be needed.
If your elderly parent seems reluctant to go upstairs to bed at night, or the stairs are becoming a bit of an issue, then maybe it’s time to have a bed downstairs, particularly if a stairlift or lift are not possible. In some circumstances the NHS or care services provide hospital beds.
Telephone with big buttons and loud speaker
There is lots of tech available – phones with good volume control and a loudspeaker, along with big buttons and easy to see numbers. Phones whether for landlines or mobiles should be as simple as possible, with no fancy features which are just confusing. Find some more ideas in Top Tips.
You need lots of lighting, especially good ‘task lighting’ for reading, doing puzzles, sewing etc. The new eco bulbs aren’t necessarily always great – so get those with the highest amp available.
Door Bells and access
Loud door bells and/or entryphones are a good idea. Like phones, there’s lots of tech available in this area – but simple is good! You can get doorbells that also light up if the hearing is really poor. An entryphone so that you can see who is on the front door step is well worth considering.
Adapting the Bathroom
Wetrooms are much more the norm these days so it should be easy to convert an existing bathroom into one, or to install one in a downstairs cloakroom or loo. Single flat slipfree surface throughout is best; maybe consider enough space for a wheelchair if you can, along with additional grab rails by the shower/bath/loo; also enough room to store and use a shower stool if someone is unable to stand up to wash very easily. Shower curtains really get in the way- so maybe a glass door (frosted for privacy); you might also need to put a raised seat over the loo and have enough room around it for wheelchair or zimmer/mobility assistance.
Step in bath
If your parent hates taking a shower, but can no longer get in and out of the bath safely, then you’ll wish you had one of those funny step in baths.
Loo roll holders
It may sound silly but install those ones you just slide the loo roll on and off. Something so simple and easy will help a lot.
In the loo/bathroom. Try to install these when you put the bathroom in, so you can put them exactly where you want them and in the right place. This way you can have some say over what they look like.
Adapting the Kitchen
Glass fronted kitchen cupboards
These can really help for obvious reasons- much less rootling around in the back of dark cupboards!
Ceramic hobs stay hot dangerously long after you have turned them off (that’s if you remember to); naked flames on gas hobs are scary. But just as important is a hob with easy to use knobs. Do your research and make sure you go and try out the knobs before you buy, they need to be easy to twist with clear markings. If you install an induction hob be sure to test out the saucepans first as they can be really heavy to lift.
Lots of kitchen drawers
Drawers are much easier to use as they make it easier to find things rather than at the back of cupboards. Below the counter drawers are great for crockery, easier to lift and carry from a drawer below than a cupboard above.
Like the induction hob, the same goes for these; they have to be easy to turn for fingers with arthritis.
Increasingly essential particularly for ready meals or for heating small amounts of food. Big buttons and easy to read dials/instructions.
A useful idea is to have a single hard floor surface throughout the home (e.g. wood, with no threshold to trip over); this is particularly helpful for mobility for someone living with Dementia or Alzheimer’s, as changes in floor surfaces can be confusing and cause stumbling. And to be really practical, if there are regular accidents in the bedroom or kitchen, a hard surface is much easier to clean than a carpet.
Have you got some good ideas for making it safer and easier to live at home, or want to see what others are suggesting? Join the conversation and share your knowledge in the Age Space Forum.