As family caregivers we worry our senior loved ones are not safe at home when they’re living independently.
Most caregivers are responsible (or at least feel that way) for their aging parents and their ability to safely age in place in the home of their choice.
Unfortunately, caregivers may be unaware of the hazards lurking in their seniors’ homes where they plan to age in place.
It is a good idea for family members to take a long, hard look at the condition of their senior loved one’s home so that potential hazards don’t put them at risk.
Locating hazards could take expert help. Some hazards are easily correctable though others may take some work or even professional assistance.
Hidden Dangers Need Our Attention
Seniors who live in older homes, some of whom may still be living in their very first home, likely have issues that need to be addressed for their safety.
As our loved ones’ bodies change with age, so should their homes. Even newer homes can be hazardous, especially if not designed with the needs of older adults in mind.
Maintenance and simple upkeep, such as cleaning the window screens and painting, are one piece of the puzzle. Older homes can have health hazards not visible to the naked eye that need to be addressed.
Here are some considerations for caregivers when determining the health of a senior’s ‘forever’ home.
- Is the air healthy? Does someone smoke or did they in the past? Has the air filter been replaced lately in the heating/cooling system or the ducts cleaned?
- Is there dangerous mold present? Are there damp places that need repair or cleaning? Is the basement or attic leaking? Some types of mold are toxic so it needs to be identified and corrected and then a way to keep the house dry in the future installed.
- Are gutters and downspouts in good repair? Are the windows and doors free of leaks?
- Is the tap water safe to drink? Does the water come from a well or pipes? Is the water system in need of repair? Has well water been tested lately for contaminants?
- Are the chemicals stored safely? Are spray bottles with cleaners used correctly to prevent airborne exposure to harmful chemicals? Are there old chemicals on shelves in the garage or home storage that are flammable and need to be properly disposed of?
- Is radon present? Is there a detector installed in the home? If radon is present, can it be remediated?
- Is carbon monoxide (CO) building up from unvented ovens or heaters, equipment that is not functioning properly, or car exhaust seeping into the home? Is there a CO alarm in the home? Does your senior know what to do if the alarm sounds?
- Has the chimney been swept recently? Ventilate all heat sources especially gas, wood and kerosene.
- Is there lead or asbestos present that might be airborne? Dust from worn paint may contain lead. Lead in the water from failing solder in pipes may be ingested.
- Is the home free of falling hazards like loose throw rugs and clutter? Are the floor boards and flooring secured to prevent trips and falls?
- Is there adequate lighting in all parts of the home inside and out to prevent falls in the dark?
- Is there a gun stored unlocked in the home?
- Is the poison control number listed next to the phone? (800) 222-1222
Expert Tips To Reduce Home Hazards
Caregivers have a lot to think about just keeping their senior loved ones healthy and happy without worrying about the hazards in their homes.
Here are some expert tips to help you investigate and correct any hazards that could impact safe aging in place.
There are many indoor air contaminants that make breathing the air inside the home more harmful than outdoor air pollution.
In addition to asbestos, dampness and old chemicals, harmful items that could be polluting the indoor air include carpets and carpet pads, glue or adhesives used in construction, pests such as cockroaches and dust mites, dust, mold, formaldehyde from smoking and pressed wood products, lead in water and painted surfaces, pet dander,
Solutions: proper home ventilation, keeping area dry, installing solid surface flooring, disposing of chemicals, proper pest control, keep living areas clean, wash bedding weekly, change out old mattresses, remove standing water and eliminate places for water to collect, don’t smoke indoors, remodel if sources of formaldehyde are present, keep pets clean and off furniture, and keep your air filters and ducts clean.
Nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels.
Radon is a gas found in the ground throughout the entire US and seeps into older and even newer homes leading to dangerous air. You can’t see, smell or taste radon.
It is also the second leading cause of lung cancer and the number one cause in people who don’t smoke.
Testing for radon is the only way you will know if your senior’s home contains dangerous levels. Kits are easy to get and use and are inexpensive.
Solution: If the levels are high, a system to vent the radon can be installed.
Managing Household Trash
As a nation, we tend to keep things that some might consider to be trash. It is not just the weekly garbage that is sitting in our home creating a hazardous situation — although if your senior can’t dispose of their home trash because they can’t get it to the curb or carry it to the refuse center or even from the kitchen to the garage or garbage can this is a different problem caregivers will need to address.
The trash seniors accumulate over the years can become hazardous. Old paint cans, solvents, oil, grease, car products, paint brushes or rollers, plastic products, pressed wood or wood scraps, old cleaning products, pest control products, yard products like fertilizer or weed killer and also yard waste that is piled up, hobby items like glue, batteries, gasoline, mothballs, and medications. Add to that the weekly trash of spoiled food, milk jugs, paper towels, personal care items and food waste.
Has your senior dumped trash in the yard or in some part of the home and it is beginning to pile up and create noxious gases? Dumped trash especially chemicals can spread to groundwater and affect the safety of the water in their well. Have they poured chemicals into their septic tank which are now seeping into the well water?
Solution: Ensure your senior loved one has any assistance needed in managing and removing household trash on an ongoing basis.
Falling in the home is a real danger for many seniors. According to the National Council on Aging, every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall and every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall.
Solutions: Caregivers can reduce the risk of falls by keeping the home free of clutter, removing all potential sources of trip and falls such as throw rugs, loose floorboards, installing hand rails, install grab bars, clean spills promptly, position furniture to allow for easy walking, provide adequate lighting in all walkways and closets, use night lights for wayfinding, and evaluate their health.
Checking their medications for any that could lead to dizziness, having regular doctor visits to check for illness or confusion that could lead to falls and be sure your senior can see well by getting an annual eye exam.
Keeping your senior loved ones safe and in their home as long as possible makes everyone happy.