In 2013, there were 44.7 million Americans age 65 and older. As the baby boomer generation ages, that number will spike upwards to 56.4 million in 2020, 82.3 million in 2040, and 98.2 million in 2060. Most baby boomers will live longer on average than previous generations, remain independent and age gracefully, which makes “aging in place” (living at home as long as possible) an attractive option. But several studies suggest that most homes are not designed to minimize safety risks for people over age 65.
Five Tips to Better Protect Aging Loved Ones
Independent living and safety are not mutually exclusive. In fact, aging itself isn’t necessarily a hazard; rather it’s often the living space that needs to be updated. Here are five tips from the American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation to protect loved ones from home hazards:
1. Keep Emergency Numbers Handy. Always keep a list of emergency numbers on each phone and write them big enough to read easily if in a hurry or frightened. Be sure to include numbers for the poison control center, fire and police departments, family members, and the family doctor.
2. Prevent Falls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that falls are the leading cause of injury for older Americans. Every 13 seconds a fall-related injury is treated in an emergency room and every 20 minutes someone dies from a fall. Here in New Jersey, an older adult 60-plus is seen in the emergency room every nine minutes for a fall (2013). To prevent falls, make sure all hallways, stairs, and paths are well-lit and clear of objects, use rails and banisters when taking the stairs, and tape all area rugs and cords to the floor so they don’t move. Also, consider a wearable alert system that allows a senior who has fallen to summon emergency personnel.
3. Protect Against Fire and Related Dangers. Older adults are at greater risk of dying in a home fire. They may move more slowly or have trouble hearing a smoke alarm. Smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths, so try to smoke outside and never in bed. Make sure there is a LOUD, working smoke alarm on every level of the house, in bedrooms, and outside of sleeping areas.
4. Avoid Bathroom Hazards. Bathrooms are especially hazardous for older adults, accounting for 80 percent of all falls according to the National Institute on Aging. They have slippery and unforgiving floor surfaces and few sturdy handholds. Install grab bars in the shower and near the toilet. Put rubber mats in the bathtub. And consider setting the water heater thermostat no higher than 120 F to prevent scalding.
5. Prevent Poisoning. The risk for a medication mistake increases as we age. According to 2014 Medicare records, there are more than half a million drug-related injuries that occur at home every year. Mistakes can include taking too much medication, taking the wrong medication, or incorrectly mixing two or more medications.
To prevent accidental poisoning, keep all medications in original containers to avoid mix-ups, and store medications in a well-lit room so the labels are easier to read. Ask the pharmacy to put large-print labels on prescriptions. And bring all pill bottles to doctor appointments to ensure medications are being taken correctly.