How can I make my home safer for my elderly mother?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

My elderly mother is moving in with me, and I’m worried she will fall while I’m at work or asleep. How can I make my home safer for her?

DEAR READER:

With some fairly simple steps, you can reduce your mother’s risk of falls. Among people 65 and older, falling ranks as the top cause of injuries. In older people, injuries from falls can be disabling, even fatal.

Falls not only are more dangerous in older people; they also are much more likely. Worsening vision and balance are the main culprits. A room that doesn’t look hazardous at all to a young or middle-aged adult can, in fact, be dangerous for seniors.

To reduce the tripping hazards your mother could encounter inside your house, start by taking an inventory. Walk through your entire home. Carefully consider each room, including hallways and floors, for potential dangers. Here are some common trip hazards, and what you can do about them:

  • Furniture can be hazardous if your mother has to pass through narrow channels to walk to a chair, for instance, or from it. Reduce this hazard by rearranging your furniture to create clear, wide walking paths.
  • Do you have steps that are uneven or broken? If so, they’re particularly dangerous. Not only do they encourage falls, but the falls may be down the stairs, resulting in repeated injuries. Above all, repair the steps.
  • Take a close look at your carpets and rugs. Is any carpeting loose or torn? If so, if the tear is too large to be repaired, you should seriously consider replacing it. Don’t forget throw rugs, especially those with unsecured edges. Consider removing them. At a minimum, use double-sided tape to prevent rugs from slipping.
  • Clutter on the floor is another obvious problem. Find new places to stash papers, books, shoes and other items that wind up on your floors.
  • Do you have wires and cords that your mother would have to step over or around? Coil or tape cords and wires away from walking paths. If you can’t avoid some cords being on a walking path, tape them to the floor with clear tape.
  • Don’t neglect the bathroom, another spot where falls often occur. The tub or shower floor can be particularly dangerous if it is slippery. Use non-slip strips on the floor of your shower or tub. Install grab bars near the tub and toilet. Non-slip rubber mats on bathroom floors are another good idea.
  • Finally, consider lighting. Replace light bulbs that are missing or burned out. Add lamps to spaces that could use more light. Install automatic night lights in any spot where someone is likely to walk — like to the bathroom and kitchen. They should turn on automatically when it’s dark and when they sense movement.

With this kind of planning, you can go a long way toward making your home safe for your mother.