Better With Age: When does your home go from safe to unsafe?

Better With Age: When does your home go from safe to unsafe?

By Bryce Scholar

Home is where the heart is. This common saying holds true for many of us. For older adults, home is where they have built a foundation of love, comfort and happy memories. It’s no surprise that a 2018 AARP survey found that nearly 90% of people ages 65 and up want to age in place for as long as possible.

If we desire to stay home, it’s important to do so wisely by taking steps that will help our homes be safe and supportive so we can thrive as we age. The steps begin with awareness of such things as furniture placement, faulty electrical outlets and aspects of our homes that present risks. A home safety assessment by a certified aging in place specialist is a wise first step to help identify these risks. These aspects may seem safe because you’ve lived in your home safely so far, but they become problematic as balance, vision and other health factors change.

As a nonprofit organization that has successfully served older adults in Alexandria for more than five decades, we seek to share what we’ve learned about aging in place safely.

What are the risks?

Our balance, eyesight and flexibility can reduce as we age, which puts older adults at a higher risk for in-home injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 36 million older adults fall each year, resulting in more than 32,000 deaths. In addition, each year at least 300,000 older adults are hospitalized for hip fractures, and more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, according to the CDC.

Some basic home elements such as stairs, tubs and doorknobs can make living at home more difficult for older adults and people with physical limitations. Simple home modifications can increase your home’s safety and accessibility by addressing obstacles to living independently.

There are a variety of ways to adapt your home based on your accessibility needs. If you or a loved one have difficulty getting in and out of the house, consider installing a permanent or temporary ramp. Should climbing stairs become harder, put in a chair lift or handrails on both sides of the stairs.

Getting in and out of the shower can pose a real risk for older adults as well, so consider installing grab bars and a shower seat. Or just convert the shower to a walk-in shower.

Let’s do a very quick and simple home assessment to see if your home is ready. Does your home have the following? If not, these are just a few inexpensive changes that can make your home safer for aging in place.

• LED lightbulbs throughout the house: As we age, our eyes need two to six times more light than when we were young. LED bulbs provide six to eight times more light than incandescent bulbs — they also last about 50 times longer.

• Lever style handles on doors: Levers are easier and less painful to use as we lose hand strength. They are easy to grip and do not require turning our wrist to operate them.

• Rocker style light switches as opposed to toggle light switches: Rocker style switches require less hand pressure and are larger, which makes them easier to operate.

• Single lever faucets: Easier to maneuver and more comfortable to operate, single lever faucets can be controlled by using one hand and simple back and forth motion to change the temperature.

• Motion censored night lights: Night lights conveniently light up when we need them, sparing us the trouble and time of searching for the light switch.

Recognizing the value of these simple measures and more substantive renovations, Goodwin House launched a new home safety assessment and modifications service. As you explore such services, be sure to ask if the assessor is a certified aging in place specialist. Working with a CAPS professional means working with someone who has the training in crafting solutions that meet independent housing needs of older adults.

The writer is a Goodwin House certified aging in place specialists. Scholar is trained in the needs of the aging population, and he applies universal design principles to create a safer, more comfortable space that helps older adults live more independently. Contact Scholar for more information at