How ageing-friendly is your parent’s home? The vast majority of people over the age of 65 would rather age at home than go into a care home. Unless your parent has stated otherwise, it is likely they feel the same way. If you want to help your parent age safely in their own home, then the sooner you make modifications and fix any potential house hazards the better. Fixing issues doesn’t mean turning their home into a hospital-style bland, boring and personality-free zone either. No elderly relative is going to appreciate that. It’s their home so be thoughtful and talk to them about what you want to do before you start doing it.
Our bones get more fragile as we get older and many elderly who take a tumble will fracture their hips or a limb so one of the main things you should be planning to do is prevent falls. A fractured hip can mean a lengthy stay in hospital, a lot of pain, ongoing mobility problems and a loss of independence because they’re no longer confident about going out. If that’s not enough motivation to make a home more elderly-friendly, read the following paragraph.
It’s a sad fact but statistics published by Gov.UK state that 30% of people over 65 will suffer a fall at least once a year. That figure increases to 50% for those in the 80s and over age group. When you’re trying to make a home more elderly-friendly then fall prevention has to be a priority. There are other things to take into consideration too so we’ve put together a room-by-room checklist of what you can do to help make your elderly parent’s home a safer place for them to be.
Room by room checklist
While we don’t recommend wandering around your elderly parent’s home with a clipboard and pen taking notes on what needs to be done, there are some common hazards you should look out for in every room.
Cables – Make sure all cables, whether they’re electrical, belong to the landline, broadband or whatever are well away from where they can cause any harm. There are lots of economic cable organisers on the market that you don’t need to be a handyperson or electrician to install. A few adhesive clips stuck to the wall or along the skirting board for the cable to be run through is a simple and swift solution.
Plugs and sockets – Have a look at all plugs and sockets to make sure they’re fit for purpose. Sometimes wires and sockets can become loose over time. If they have then your elderly relative can run the risk of being electrocuted. If you’re unsure of how to wire a plug or fix a wall socket, get a professional to do it. While you’re checking the plugs, have a chat with your relative about how they’re managing with pulling plugs out of sockets. Older folks with arthritic hands can often struggle to pull out a plug. If they are, consider getting them some plug tugs to make it easier for them.
Sharp edges – Sharp edges on tables and countertops can be a hazard for elderly people, especially as they become more prone to stumbling and falling. Consider getting some silicone corner guards to cover any sharp edges that could cause injury. These are cheap and easy to put on, and can be transparent or come in different colours to make the edges more visible if needed.
Rugs, carpets and mats – Loose rugs or mats and curling carpets, no matter what room they are in, are a serious hazard and cause many falls. While you might struggle to persuade your elderly parent to move that bedside rug they’ve had for the last decade, it’ll be in their best interests if they do. It’ll also make hoovering the carpets less of an effort. Take a look at any carpet joint strips in doorways too to make sure they’re as flat as they possibly can be and not likely to trip your parent up.
Lighting – Low lighting might be lovely for setting the mood, but potentially catastrophic if your eye-sight is failing and you are unsteady on your feet. An often-overlooked aspect of home safety, yet very simple to fix, good lighting in the home is really important for spotting hazards and avoiding falls. Persuade them to get some more lamps, and replace and low-light bulbs with brighter ones in poorly lit areas. You might also consider installing nightlights or motion-activated lights in hallways and bathrooms for night-trips to the loo.
Clutter – Your elderly parent has had a lifetime to accumulate clutter although they might not call it that. No, you can’t scoop everything up and send it to the nearest charity shop. To do any decluttering you’re going to have to be pretty diplomatic. Move anything that’s a safety hazard to a better location or, if you can get away with it, box it up and store it somewhere it’s not going to cause an accident.
It might seem like a mammoth task to make a home age-friendly, but you don’t need to do it all in a single day. Do it room by room and it won’t be so overwhelming for you or for your elderly relative.
The living room of their home is quite possibly where your parent will spend most of their time. Take a look at the layout of the room and ask yourself whether there’s enough space for your parent to move around without having to negotiate multiple pieces of furniture. This is particularly important if they have mobility issues and need to use a walker to help them get from A to B. If there isn’t much space, then you’ll need to do some subtle rearranging.
Many older people struggle to get up easily from low sofas. If that’s a problem, suggest they consider having an orthopaedic chair which will make getting up easier and also give them additional support. They may find an over-chair table with wheels useful too. When they want to get out of the chair they can just slide it out of the way rather than having to lift it up.
Not surprisingly, most accidents in the home happen in the kitchen. This is where you’ll need to take extra time and care to ensure it’s safe and elderly-friendly.
Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors – There’s a good possibility your parent will already have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors installed. What they might not do is make regular checks to see if they’re working properly especially if they’re positioned high up. Make it part of your visiting routine to check the alarms are functioning. That applies whether it’s wired into the electrical circuits or is battery only. If your elderly relative doesn’t have smoke alarms fitted then you’ll need to get some as soon as possible. You’ll only need to get carbon monoxide monitors if they have gas appliances.
Stove safety – If your elderly relative is unstable on their feet, but still likes to prepare their own meals, you’ll want to ensure they can do it as safely as possible. Consider suggesting they have a cooker guard installed to help keep pans where they should be if they lose their balance while stirring their soup.
It’s a good idea to have a look at their collection of saucepans too. From habit, they may still be using pans that are too big and heavy. If they are, suggest they use ones of a more adequate size and weight which will be easier to manage. If your relative is getting forgetful and uses a gas cooker, you might want to consider replacing it with a modern electric hob that comes complete with timers that turn the appliance off automatically. Yes, it’s an expense, but can prevent a fire.
Flooring – Tiled floors look amazing in a kitchen, but even the smallest of spills can turn a tiled floor into a veritable ice rink. While you don’t want to create another tripping hazard, you may want to think about laying a large non-slip mat over the tiles or smaller ones, in areas such as by the sink, where spills can happen. If yours or your parent’s budget permits, you may want to consider replacing the tiles completely with special non-slip flooring.
Cupboard Care – It’s hard to reach up and get what you need out of a high cupboard when you get older. When overstretching an older person can easily lose their balance. Make sure everything they use on a regular basis whether it’s crockery, pans or food items are stored in the cupboards they can get to with ease. Keep the higher cupboards for storing that clutter you boxed up or for things they no longer use.
Making a bathroom elderly-friendly is not the easiest of things to do unless all that’s required is a new non-slip mat for the bath or shower and a couple of well-placed handrails. If you feel you need to do more than that because your elderly parent can no longer manage to get in and out of the bath, don’t worry, you can get help.
To get help in adapting your parent’s bathroom to their needs, the first thing you need to do is contact your local council and request a risk assessment. This applies even if the house is your parent’s property. The council will send out an occupational therapist who will take an in-depth look at your parent’s specific needs and then make recommendations about what to do to make it safer.
Not only will the OT appraise the bathroom during the assessment, they’ll check other rooms too. Many minor adaptations are carried out free of charge if the total cost of the adaptations don’t exceed £1000. If the OT recommends more major adaptations such as having a wet room installed or replacing the bath with a shower cubicle, you may be able to get a grant to help with the cost.
If your parent has recently been discharged from hospital then an NHS occupational therapist will often come and take a look at their home to make sure they can manage. They will provide equipment like shower stools or chairs, walking aids and a raised toilet seat if your parent needs them.
One other thing to consider that is not a common feature of UK bathrooms is a bidet spray. These devices, which are popular in parts of Asia, are like mini hand-held showers that can be attached to a toilet. As people age, certain health conditions and mobility issues can make ‘toilet’ accidents more frequent. Having a plumber install a bidet spray can help make these situations easier to manage, and much less unpleasant and undignified.
As long as your parent’s bedroom isn’t full of clutter, you’ll probably find this room one of the easiest to make elderly-friendly. What you will need to check is the bed to make sure it’s the right height and that they’re managing to get in and out without too much effort. If the bed is too low, and your parent is struggling to get to their feet, you can make it higher by placing bed raisers on the feet or castors, or getting a deeper mattress.
Check there’s enough space between the bedroom furniture so they can move around the room easily. If there isn’t, rearrange it. Make sure they have a place by the bed where they can leave a mobile, personal alarm and lamp close to hand should they need it during the night.
Entrance hall and stairways
Walking sticks and umbrellas have a habit of falling over so make sure there’s somewhere to store them properly. Door mats can be a trip hazard too, especially if they’re thick ones, so move them out of harm’s way.
If your parent is struggling with getting up and down stairs, they may be able to get help to have a stair lift installed. To find out if they’re eligible, you’ll need to request a risk assessment from your local council who will also advise you about grants to help cover the cost of installation.
Making a home elderly-friendly may sound like a lot of work, and it is, but it’s a task that will pay you and your relative dividends so the sooner it’s done the better. Not only will it make it a lot safer and more comfortable for your parents to continue living in their home in their old age, but it will mean less risk of trips to A&E and a lot less worry and disruption for you.
- Do I have to pay for home adaptations?
Not always. Most local councils will make minor home adaptations for free. If they’re major adaptations then you may be able to apply for a grant to help towards the cost.
- How do I get an occupational health assessment at home?
Contact your local council and ask for a risk assessment. If the wait time is too long for your needs, or you would prefer to pay for a private service for whatever reason, search for a home independence company or private occupational therapist in your area that offer home assessments.
- Will the NHS pay for a stair lift?
No, the NHS won’t pay for a stairlift. You may be able to get help towards the cost of a stairlift from your local council or social services. However, funding for stairlifts is often limited, and there may be waiting lists or other eligibility requirements to consider.
- What things can be done to allow the person to age in place longer?
As well as making sure their home is as safe an environment as possible, you should make regular checks on their health and wellbeing and make the most of the latest technology for remote monitoring and social connection.