Remove trip hazards, improve lighting for older adults

DEAR GAIL: My mom is 85 and coming to live with me. She’s had a couple of falls and just can’t be by herself any longer. Besides decorating her room to her liking, what other things do I need to consider? Eunice.

DEAR EUNICE: It’s wonderful that you’re having your mother come live with you; it’s not something everyone can do. There’s a lot of things we don’t think of that really need to be changed in our homes when older adults come to live. It’s all about safety.

One thing in particular is to remove as many, if not all, of your area rugs and definitely any small scatter rugs you have around. Statistics show that 65 percent of older adults end up dying from complications after a fall, and rugs are the main cause of those falls. And did you know that 50 percent of older adults who fall break their hip and die within the first year of the accident?

So first, I’d suggest removing any rugs in your kitchen. She’ll be in and out and possibly not watching coming and going from the refrigerator to the sink. In her bathroom, I’d suggest replacing or covering your floor with carpet or at least a room-size rug. The bathroom is a very common room to trip in, especially when coming out of the shower or tub. They step on the rug and it slips. If you have area rugs in other parts of the house, make sure to properly tape them down if you’re not going to remove them. Especially watch any area rugs you have in walkways and those in your furniture groupings.

As we age, we all need more light to see. The lenses in our eyes harden and start to yellow, like a newspaper, letting in less light. The Illuminating Engineering Society reported that those 65 and older need twice as much light to see. So turn on all the lights in the room, add wherever you have dark areas and increase the wattage of the bulbs.

Older adults adapt more slowly to changing light conditions so having as much natural light as possible helps when turning on additional light. Higher levels of daylight also improves sleeping habits and reduces the possibly of depression.

Two main areas of concern as far as lighting are the bedroom and walkways. The light switch in each room must be connected to a light that can be turned on without having to walk through the room. There should be a light by their bed that they can turn on and off when getting up in the middle of the night. Consider installing wall sconces that are on separate switches from the main room lights.

I also would consider using motion sensor lights in the bedroom and walkways. It’s not a bad idea for everyone to do whether older adults are living with you or not. They really help when you’re getting up in the middle of the night and don’t want to turn on the lights and wake up the person next to you.

Furniture arrangement is also extremely important. Is there a clear path in and out of your furniture arrangements? I’ve seen many homes with baskets of magazines on the floor by a chair. Slipping on newspapers, magazines and loose papers is a high risk in an older adult’s home. How far away is the coffee table from the sofa? If it’s too close, they may fall when trying to get up and out. Are there electrical and phone cords exposed in walkways? That’s another thing I’ve seen many times.

Another item we don’t think about is where the telephone is located. I know this isn’t a design issue, but can sure become a fall hazard. The phone rings, they get up quickly and sometimes lose their balance from being dizzy, then run to the phone and trip and fall. It’s so easy to have multiple handsets around the house. There should be at least one next to where they sit, on their night stand and any other place they spend a lot of their time.

There are many other things that you need to consider, but I only have so much room. For more information, go to AARP’s website and order “The AARP Home Fit Guide” for free.

Right now, more then every before, form follows function. Make safety your No. 1 concern in your home. Think of any times you might have tripped or had trouble seeing and make a change before mom comes.

Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by email to: gail@gmjinteriors.com. Or, mail to: 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is: www.GMJinteriors.com.

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