Make your home safe – BEFORE you have to

by Karin Pauly

Most people want to stay in their home for as long as possible before going into Assisted Living or a Long-Term Care facility. This is understandable as it is the place they feel comfortable, are surrounded by memories, and it is often much more affordable.

Yet, I see many families in denial about what the future might bring, and even though they want to stay in their home as they age, they are reluctant to invest the time and money into making their home safer and easier-to-live in.

This is not a smart plan. Investing in the home earlier may actually reduce the chances and occurrence of injury, reduce stress, and keep you or your loved ones happier and healthier longer. Waiting until a health crisis occurs may result in having no choice but to move into a long-term care facility.

Here are some preparation tips for living at home:

The access into the home and throughout. If a loved one has mobility challenges, consider a ramp or stairlift.

Brighten the lights and consider motion detection lighting.

Clear walkways, remove clutter and throw rugs. Avoid extension cords across the floor and encourage your loved one to wear non-slip footwear.

Replace doorknobs with door levers which are easier to use with arthritic hands.


  • Install a walk-in shower or bathtub – contact an installer who specializes in facilities for the elderly or disabled. Be aware – this can be expensive and there are companies who now specialize in updating existing spaces for a much lower cost. Be sure to include handrails, a waterproof bench and a hand-held shower head.
  • Install a raised toilet seat with handrails around the toilet.
  • Get non-slip matts in and around the shower area.
  • Install a nightlight.
  • Adjust the water temperature to avoid burns.
  • Brighten the lights and consider motion detection lighting.


  • Make sure there is easy access to all supplies and food items needed and that there is no need to use a stepstool.
  • Use pull-out drawers and Lazy Susans.
  • Consider a microwave drawer or place microwave at counter height.
  • Install pressure balanced valves at the sink to provide steady water temperatures.
  • Install open shelving.


  • Make sure it is on the main level with easy access to the bathroom.
  • Replace worn-out and saggy mattresses with firmer ones, so your loved one is not trapped.
  • Make sure the bed is the appropriate height, not too tall so there is a risk of falling when entering the bed, and will reduce the risk of injury in the case of falling out of bed.
  • Consider installing a telescoping grab bar beside the bed to hold on to when getting in and out of bed.


  • Use a medical alert system – before purchasing evaluate providers through the Better Business Bureau and/or other consumer advocacy groups to ensure fair pricing, effectiveness, response time, active range, battery life, and ease of use.
  • Check batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Replace damaged electrical cords.
  • Discourage the use of space heaters.
  • Make sure there is a functional fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
    Talk to your loved one about what to do if there is a fire or and emergency. Keep emergency numbers handy including 911, family members and friends, Poison Control 1-800-222-1222, and numbers for any professional services being used.
  • Post a Physician’s Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) on the refrigerator.


  • Talk to your loved one about scams and do not agree to anything on the telephone such as sharing credit card numbers, bank information or social security numbers.
  • Install a peephole at the front door.
  • Install a security system – and make sure your loved one is knowledgeable on how to act if the alarm goes off.
  • Consider installing safety cameras throughout the house.
  • Make sure windows and doors are always locked.


  • When the time is right, consider home health/personal care support. Contact your local council on aging or senior linkage lines. The Minnesota Senior Linkage Line – 1.800.333.2433.
  • Utilize home-based volunteer services for cleaning, meal-preparation visiting, or transportation.
  • Utilize a professional Occupation Therapist to evaluate the home as it relates to the needs of your loved one. They may provide valuable suggestions and resources for modifications for things such as vision loss, hearing loss, dementia, loss of mobility, arthritis and more.