Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am

Senior Lifestyles

The home-field advantage: Safety strategies for aging in place

“Who’s got it better than we do?” “Nobody!”

If you’ve been following the San Francisco 49ers this season, you know that’s the familiar dialogue between new coach Jim Harbaugh and his players. Harbaugh knows that winning in the NFL starts with a great defense. But as a former NFL quarterback, he knows the team won’t dominate until it has a top-five offense to match.

If you are an older adult, 2012 is a new season. It’s a time when you can develop offensive and defensive practices that will allow you to live safely at home for many years to come.

And in our later years, having a winning season may simply mean staying healthy and active for as long as possible. Unfortunately, an injury caused by an unnecessary fall can sideline you for many months. Often it’s that first injury that ultimately keeps you from maintaining your ability to live a normal, everyday life.



So to stretch the football analogy, basic home-safety adjustments are much like focusing first on a strong defense. Making simple modifications and minor investments to your home environment can prevent injury. Many such accommodations are simple:

• Eliminate fall hazards including loose cords, hallway or stairway obstructions like piles of old magazines, throw rugs or bathroom mats that don’t have slip-resistant rubber on their bottoms.

• Improve night lighting in bedrooms and halls, and remove obstructions between the bed and bathroom for nighttime visits to the restroom.

• Replace old house slippers with ones that provide better support and traction.

• Manage medications more closely to prevent improper dosages that can contribute to symptoms like grogginess or low blood pressure, which could cause fainting.



After shoring up defensive measures for safety, turn your attention to a more aggressive offensive strategy to make your overall home more accessible. This will help maintain not just safety, but also your quality of life by enabling you to continue to perform your daily activities independently.

Home accessibility upgrades range from moderate to more expensive in cost and can be scaled to your specific desires. A few affordable home modifications include:

• Place furniture risers under chairs, couches and beds to make standing or sitting easier and safer.

• Install proper handrails or a small ramp for steps and stairs that allow access for all areas of the house, the garage and outside areas.

• Replace existing toilet with an elevated Americans with Disabilities Act-height toilet.

• Add a handheld wand to a bathtub or shower as well as a proper shower chair for safe bathing.

• Replace existing knob-style door handles with lever-style handles.


Bigger-ticket upgrades

Because many Los Altos houses were built more than 50 years ago, you may need to invest more to reach modern accessibility standards.

The most common, more significant investment in home modification usually comes in the bathroom through:

• Widening the entrance and using pocket doors for wheelchair access.

• Remodeling the floor plan for transfer access between sink, toilet, bathtub and shower.

• Replacing a bathtub or shower that can facilitate a variety of disabilities, including full wheelchair walk-in access.

Like all good investments, such renovations cost a bit more up front but could pay dividends in the form of quality of life for years to come as you age at home.

For more information and a checklist of ideas for home safety and accessibility, visit www.homecare-california.com/homesafety.

Greg Hartwell is managing director and CEO of Homecare California, a Los Altos-based in-home caregiving agency. He is a frequent guest speaker on elder-care issues. For more information, call 324-2600, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.homecarecal.com.

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