Most people prefer to stay in their own homes and maintain their independence for as long as possible. But getting older can mean the place you once felt safe and comfortable becomes trickier to navigate.
Around three million people over 65 end up in A&E every year following an accident. And around a third of people over 65 (and half of people aged 80 and over) experience a fall at least once a year.
While those stats sound distressing, the good news is that most accidents in the home are preventable. Getting older may mean you need more support than before, but there are plenty of things you can do to improve safety in the home.
We take a look at some of the small changes that can make a big difference.
Coping with coronavirus
With the continuing spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), people are being encouraged to distance themselves from others as much as possible. Many older people will be concerned about becoming isolated at home. Friends and family may also be worried about the safety of older loved ones forced to stay at home with less support or company than usual.
Read our practical guidance for older people on how to cope with the coronavirus crisis.
1. Sort out your stairs
One of the most dangerous places in the house is your stairs. That’s because common hazards on the stairways can increase the risk of a fall. Likely culprits include fraying or loose carpet, lack of stair rails or objects temporarily left on the steps.
To make going upstairs or downstairs safer, secure any loose carpet or rugs and ensure the steps themselves are always clear. Add bannisters if they’re missing and make sure there’s adequate lighting for the area. You could also try a carpet colour that strongly contrasts with the walls (to make it easier to see the stairs). If you don’t want to replace the carpet, you could repaint the walls a contrasting colour.
- For more tips, read our Later Life Care guide to stair safety
2. Get a bath to suit your needs
A relaxing soak is one of life’s small pleasures for many, but sadly bathing may be one of the first activities that becomes challenging for an older person. You need a certain amount of strength and agility to get into and out of a bath. It’s easy to take this for granted, and some people only come to terms with the fact they’re having problems after they’ve had a fall in the bathroom.
Luckily, there are plenty of adaptations that can make soaking safer. Walk-in baths or ones with a built-in seat that can make bathing significantly easier for those who are losing their strength. While grab rails are a really subtle change that can make a huge difference to your self-confidence.
3. Improve bedroom safety
Your bedroom should be a place of comfort but increasing age can make getting in and out of bed harder than it used to be. There’s plenty of useful equipment that can make this easier, from bed levers to slip-prevention floorboards.
Keeping a chair in the bedroom to sit on while you dress and undress can help with balance problems and make it easier to put on shoes and socks.
- Read more about bedroom safety
4. Protect yourself in the kitchen
A kitchen is essential for preparing food, but there are a number of hazards to encounter here. From open flames to sharp knives to boiling water, safety is paramount.
If you’re worried about forgetting to turn off the grill or oven, there’s assistive technology you can buy that learns how you use the cooker and will sound an alarm if it’s been left on.
A good ventilation system is also essential in the kitchen as cooking and washing up can fill a room with condensation. Make sure all windows are simple to open and are easily reached. If you don’t already have an extractor fan in the kitchen, find out if it’s possible to install one.
5. Check the lightbulbs
It may sound obvious, but decent lighting reduces the chances of a fall and will make you feel safer. So check your light switches are working properly and are located in positions that are easy to reach. If any are in awkward positions, consider replacing them.
A high-wattage light bulb will provide more brightness. Make sure you have a supply of replacements available and keep working torches on hand in case of a power cut.
- Read the Which? guide to choosing the best lightbulb
6. Get the boiler serviced
Identify problems with your hot water or heating before they start to affect you by ensuring you get your boiler serviced each year. Remember, gas boilers must be serviced by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
You can find a reputable tradesperson in your area using the Which? Trusted Traders scheme.
7. Consider assistive technology
Telecare systems send a warning to a call centre or carer if there’s a problem in the home, such as a fall, inactivity, or there’s a fire, flood or gas leak. These could be movement sensors, wearable alarm pendants or a GPS tracking device. Such devices can prevent a problem before it happens or send an alert so quick assistance can be arranged if something does go wrong.
8. Think about home security
You may want visitors, such as family and friends, to have a key to your home in case you’re not able to let them in. But leaving a key under the mat isn’t a good idea. Consider a key safe box that requires a code to open that can be fixed to a wall outside.
An intercom system, which uses a phone or camera, may also be a good idea. This way you’ll be able to see who is at the door before choosing whether or not to open it.
And as well as traditional security equipment, ‘smart’ security devices are available to enable you to control a range of devices around the home, such as wireless cameras, motion detectors and smart doorbells.