Home modifications help keep older adults safe

Celebrate Older Americans Month by conducting a home modification checklist.

Older Americans Month is celebrated every May to celebrate the many contributions made by older adults as well as providing them with information and resources to help keep them healthy and active.  This year’s official theme is “Safe Today. Healthy Tomorrow.” Older adults have a greater chance of unintentional injury (6 million treated injuries a year) and death compared to the general population.  The Older Americans Month initiative, which is overseen by the Administration for Community Living, includes a segment on home safety.  Suggested safety tips include:

  • Fall prevention: install handrails and grab bars; make sure there is adequate lighting inside and outside your home; add a nightlight(s) between your bedroom and the bathroom; wear shoes with non-slip soles; and use a walking aid if necessary to help with balance.
  • Prevent fires and burns: set hot water heater to 120 degrees; install anti-scald device on sinks, tubs, etc.; test smoke alarms regularly and make sure one is in/near your cooking area and one is in each bedroom; wear short-sleeved or snug-fitting clothing when cooking; use high quality oven mitts; and do not smoke in your home, particularly if oxygen therapy is being used.

Home modifications are changes that promote independent living, provide safety and prevent injury.  They can be simple or extensive.  The Administration on Aging suggests that home modifications should improve the accessibility and adaptability of a home.  Accessibility includes widening doorways for wheelchairs, lowering counter tops, installing grab bars and making sure that switches and electrical outlets are within reach.  Adaptability includes changes that can be made quickly to accommodate needs versus redesigning a home: i.e. grab bars, and moveable cabinets that allow space for a wheelchair.  It is important to note that universal design features are usually included into the original blueprints of a home: i.e. easy use and adaptability of appliances, fixtures and floor plans.

Before making any home modifications, Michigan State University Extension suggests that you survey your home for current and future needs.  Go through each room, using a home modification checklist and noting where changes could be made, identify potential problems and solutions.  Home modification checklists can be found at: the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications; or from Rebuilding Together, Inc.  

For more information on home modifications visit the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications.  Contact your area agency on aging (AAA) to see if they offer home modification programs or resources.  To find your local AAA contact information visit the Eldercare Locator at: 1-800-677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov.

For a variety of home ownership resources visit MSU Extension.

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