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How to Improve Home Safety for Older Adults

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It is no surprise that most older adults would prefer to age in their home – the place in which they are most comfortable. In fact, 90 percent of adults over age 65 report that they’d prefer to age in place. Other studies support this notion too.  A recent survey of 1,000 North American adults, ages 55-75, found that nearly four out of five (78 percent) respondents wish to remain at home simply because their current home and community is where they are happy and comfortable.

While 54 percent of seniors say they would be heartbroken if they could no longer live at home, the reality is that most homes will need some sort of modification or home safety device installed to ensure the environment is conducive to successfully aging in place. However, only 64 percent of those wishing to remain in their current home have thought about age-friendly modifications they will need to make.

"Boomers will see their mom and dad struggle, and the situation brings to light that the home is not always a friendly place to age," explained Dan Bawden, who founded the national Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) program for the National Association of Home Builders in 2001. The program trains contractors, occupational therapists, physical therapists and other medical providers how to remodel homes for older adults. "So, the sooner you have the talk, the better. It's good to let loved ones know you're thinking about them and have a plan in place. It's much like having a will. It's a blessing to families."

The effects of aging and chronic conditions can put an older adult at a higher risk for falls and accidents in the home. On an annual basis, 1 in 4 older adults experience a fall and every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the ER for falls.

Physical, behavioral and environmental factors can put an older adult at higher risk of a fall. The good news is that preventative measures can be taken to better safeguard a senior’s physical and behavioral health, as well as physical environment.

For example, an older adult can prioritize physical activity to help improve balance and flexibility, which in turn creates stronger muscles and reflexes that can support the body. Additionally, proper medication management will assist in maintaining behavioral health. For example, if a medication may cause dizziness, it would not be recommended that someone take that medication prior to walking up or down a flight of stairs.

When it comes to modifying an older adult’s physical environment or home, to protect from fall hazards, some older adults will be resistant.

5 Reasons Older Adults Resist Home Modifications:

  • Fierce independence: As people age, they may not want to admit or accept that they need assistance.
  • Aesthetic appeal: Some older adults may not want home modifications to impact the look and aesthetics of their home.
  • Fear of asking for help: It’s common for older adults to fear asking for help because they believe it indicates that they can’t handle living on their own. They may also believe asking for help will lead to an expedited move to a nursing home or assisted living placement.
  • Emotional connection: There may be an emotional connection to hazardous items like throw rugs.
  • Cognitive impairment: Aging adults may not be cognizant of common hazards in the home or may forget to report accidents like falls or a small kitchen fire.

When the time comes for the conversation about home modifications it can begin from two vantage points, Bawden added. "Adult children may say, 'We need to talk about this.' They see the need coming. Or the parents may start the conversation. It really is who thinks of it first. The best way to start is making the need for home modifications about somebody else," Bawden explained.

"For example, 'A friend from church is having similar problems at home. Let me tell you what happened to her. The family didn't have a plan to install any safety features. The wife slipped in the tub and broke her hip. She really regretted not putting in grab rails sooner. It was an expensive mistake. I was thinking we should do some of these things in our home to prevent an accident like that from happening. If you'd like, Dad, we can bring in an occupational therapist or CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist) professional, who could assess your home to identify the barriers or danger points.' I use this 'making it about others' technique with my Boomer clients who are interested in remodeling their homes. Storytelling with examples is a great way to start the conversation."

5 Steps to Overcoming Home Modification Resistance:

  • Talk with the older adult to understand personal goals for the living environment.
  • Assess and discuss the current living environment by using a free home safety checklist.
  • Collaborate with the older adult to find creative home safety solutions that meet the living environment goals.
  • Discuss the importance of fall prevention and risk reduction, as well as why it is critical to tell a loved one or physician about recent falls.
  • Include a third party who specializes in aging in place home modifications to validate the need for home modifications to improve safety. Learn more about and find a certified specialist in your area.

Once an older adult has agreed to make home modifications, funding the upgrades or remodeling needs can be concerning. There are multiple ways to fund a home remodel and even five simple fixes under $1,000 can improve the safety of an adult aging in the comfort of home.

For additional aging in place resources, visit HomeYourOwnWay.com and MakingHomeSaferForSeniors.com. For more tips on how professionals can help family caregivers and older adults with home safety concerns, watch this webinar. Senior care professionals can earn a free Continuing Education (CE) credit*.

For more tips for the care and support of someone living with dementia, visit www.helpforalzheimersfamilies.com or www.alz.org.

Last revised: October 9, 2019

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