Staying Safe While Aging in Place: Why You Need a Home Safety Assessment

“Aging in place.” It’s the ideal we all hope for, the ability to remain in our own homes as we grow older—safely, securely, for as long as possible.

But aging often brings a range of physical and cognitive challenges that can make living at home risky and, all too often, an unsafe option without adapting the home environment to accommodate disabilities.

That’s where a home safety assessment by a licensed occupational therapist can make the difference between continuing to live at home and having to move to assisted living or other adaptive setting.

Home Safety Assessment Goal: Simple, Cost-Effective Solutions

The home safety assessment involves a room-to-room review; our goal is first to find the simplest, most cost-effective solutions to any potential problem. Among the most common, affordable adaptations are the following:

  • Remove scatter rugs to prevent accidental falls, especially for persons using canes and walkers, or for those with neurological disorders that affect coordination, such as Parkinson’s.
  • Ensure that paths are clear of objects that could make maneuvering with a cane or walker difficult, or that could cause falls.
  • Add grab bars near the shower and toilet for ease of movement.
  • Add a raised toilet seat to facilitate sitting and rising.
  • Use a shower or tub seat. We favor stable, elongated models that reach over the edge of the tub onto the bathroom floor, making it easier to sit and “scoot” into the tub or shower stall.
  • Attach a telescoping or hand-held shower head to be able to direct water flow.
  • Add a “kill switch” or knob guards to oven and stove if the individual struggles with dementia and is at risk of leaving on burners.
  • Wrap a towel around a refrigerator door handle to make it easier to grab and open.
  • Use a plate guard to prevent food from falling on the floor.
  • Use reach extenders to get objects on high shelves.
  • Add a U-bar to a bed, to make rising and sitting down safer and easier.
  • Install a ramp to facilitate entering and leaving the house with a wheelchair.
  • Add a stair lift to ease climbing and descending staircases. These can be rented for short-term use or purchased.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of creative solutions an occupational therapist may recommend. The best plan is tailored to the specific needs of the individual.

Adaptations Tailored to the Needs of the Client

Cost is always a factor in any plan. Our goal, as occupational therapists, is to fit the solution to the client’s needs and pocketbook.

The following websites give a good overview of the variety of adaptive equipment that’s available. They are also easy to navigate:

For family members who are handy with home improvements, we often recommend reviewing adaptive equipment on these types of sites and then visiting Amazon or Home Depot’s websites to find equivalent, less expensive products that can be used to create the same adaptive benefits.

For more complicated and extensive adaptations, such as restructuring kitchens to accommodate wheelchairs or building customized ramps, we recommend a consultation with a qualified contractor who has experience in this field.

A registered and licensed occupational therapist and certified geriatric care manager with Deborah Fins Associates since 2000, Susan Ritz works directly with elders and their families and provides administrative support to our practice. Her professional training in occupational therapy informs her detailed functional assessments and home safety evaluations, and she has extensive experience working with clients who have Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological disorders.

Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in geriatric care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

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