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Make Home Safe to Prevent Falls

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

In focusing on what you can do to make your home safe, let’s begin with the concept of home modification and universal design.

Universal design accommodates all – from small children to older people. What is safe for an older adult is safe for younger and mid-life adults. You may have noticed that most hotels have grab bars in the bathrooms. At one time, such bars were intended for those with a disability. Now they are for all abilities.

Businesses are catering to designs of safety. These include home builders, cabinetmakers, manufacturers of kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures.

The National Institute on Aging writes that “falls and accidents seldom just happen.” There are ways to prevent, or at least decrease, chances of falling. Making your home safe is one way. Here are some recommendations from the NIA:

In stairways, hallways and pathways: Have good lights with light switches at the top and bottom of the stairs; keep walking areas free of clutter; have carpets fixed to the floor and add no-slip strips on tile and wooden floors; and install handrails on both sides of the stairway.

In bathrooms: Mount grab bars on the inside and outside of the shower and next to toilets; place non-skid mats, strips or carpet on all surfaces that might get wet; and keep on night lights.

In your bedroom: Have night lights and night switches close to your bed and keep the telephone near the bed.

In other living areas: Keep electric and telephone cords near walls and away from walking areas; arrange furniture, such as coffee tables out of the pathways; and have sofas and chairs at a height enables you to get in and out of them easily.

AARP has published a self-assessment checklist for safety, lighting and storage. Here are some of the items. Answer yes or no to each one. Questions you answer “no” to can serve as your “to do” list.


  • I’ve tossed items I don’t’ use.
  • I can reach most items in my closet – even when sitting.
  • My clothing rod is 20 to 44 inches above the floor.
  • I have a light in my closet.
  • The light switch is easy to reach

Electrical outlets

  • My outlets are at least 27 inches from the floor
  • All my appliances are within 6 inches of an outlet.
  • I can turn on a lamp in each room with a switch at the door.
  • I try not to use extension cords.

Laundry rooms

  • My laundry room is on the first floor.
  • All supplies are easy to reach
  • My washing machine is front-loading.


  • I open curtains and blinds to make full use of natural light.
  • My reading chair is near a window.
  • I use the highest-wattage bulbs.
  • I have outside lights that turn on automatically
  • My windows are clean

I recently spoke with a retired physical therapist who noted that some physical therapists are making home visits to help older adults remain safely in their homes. You might consider asking for such a visit from your mother’s physical therapist.

Since you are the first-line care provider, consider joining a group for tips, insights, resources and support.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

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