How Safe if Your Home?

How Safe is Your Home?
By Carol Barbier Rolnick

Did you know the federal Centers for Disease Control and the Home Safety Council report that:

• The number of fatal accidents in the home is second only to those in vehicular accidents.
• More than one-half of all falls resulting in death or injury occur in the home.
• More than one-third of adults 65 or over fall in their homes annually.
• Four out of five deaths due to fire occur in the home and approximately one-half of home fire deaths occur in homes without smoke alarms.

And yet, if you’re like most people, you want to remain living independently in your own home and community for as long as you possibly can. An AARP report, “Fixing to Stay,” found that while more than 90 percent of people over 65 wanted to stay in their own homes as they grew older, people were concerned about their ability to remain in their homes. As many as 31 percent were concerned about being forced into a nursing home because of increased difficulty in getting around the house, and another 45 percent were concerned about having a home in which family and friends could move about safely.

As many of us reluctantly acknowledge as we age, these concerns are real. As we grow older, there are losses in our physical abilities and sensory perceptions, some of which are easily recognized while others can be more subtle. While we generally feel secure in our own homes, there may be a number of hidden dangers that we’re not aware of, and we become more susceptible to falls and other home accidents. Stairs, hard-to-reach cabinets or shelves, high-threshold bathtubs, slippery floors and poor lighting are just a sample of the things that might create an unsafe situation or problems with accessibility.

Solution for safety

Fortunately, there’s plenty that can be done to ensure that your home continues to meet your safety and accessibility needs as you get older. The formula is simple:
• Evaluate your home for safety and accessibility, preferably with the help of an experienced professional.
• Implement modifications to improve safety and accessibility.

Home modifications can benefit not only to people who desire to stay in their homes as they get older, but also for people with progressive diseases (such as multiple sclerosis, COPD or Parkinson’s disease) and those who have suffered an acute injury or illness such as a hip fracture or stroke.

Many modifications are simple:
• securing or removing throw rugs
• replacing existing lights with higher wattage
• placing nightlights in bedroom and bath
• Installing and checking on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in key areas

More complex modifications can include installing a chair lift or home elevator, installing a fully accessible roll-in or walk-in shower or adding a master bedroom to the ground level.

Who should evaluate your home?

Safety checklists are available through your local department on aging and disabilities, or by going online to safety-oriented Web sites such as the Home Safety Council, the Centers for Disease Control and www.safelivingtransitions.com

To ensure a thorough, impartial assessment of your home, you should consider retaining a certified aging-in-place specialist (CAPS), who is experienced in conducting a home evaluation, and meets the standards of the National Association of Home Builders. CAPS specialists have expertise in all the available technologies, products and techniques that can enable a comfortable, safe and independent lifestyle for people with special needs and those who simply want to age in place. Retaining a professional to evaluate your home is a positive step toward ensuring home safety for you and your loved ones.

Carpe diem

Seize the day. Assess not just your home but yourself, and see what steps you can take to make you, as well as your environment, safer. The Centers for Disease Control has several recommendations to prevent falls that are equally applicable for improving personal health and safety. Check with your health professional to:
• start an exercise regimen.
• review your medications
• check your vision
• assess your needs for improved safety and accessibility

Next month’s issue: Implementing home modifications.

Carol Barbier Rolnick is director of education for Safe Living Solutions, a certified aging in place (CAPS) company that specializes in home safety education and evaluation. Ms. Rolnick can be reached at crolnick@safelivingtransitions.com or (410) 729-4215.

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