There’s no place like home, so it’s no surprise that’s where many seniors want to live for as long as possible as safely as possible.
According to the AARP, approximately 90 percent of seniors intend to continue living in their current homes for the next five to 10 years. But only 65 percent of seniors between the ages of 60 and 70 find it very easy to live independently, and only 43 percent among those aged 70 and older find it very easy.
Developing a plan to accommodate changes in your loved ones’ health and function can be difficult. Although you may support your parents’ desire to continue living independently, you probably have concerns about their safety and well-being. One way to help resolve these conflicting emotions and determine if your parents need assistance is through a home safety assessment for seniors.
Some families hire an experienced professional to lead them through a comprehensive review of their loved one’s mental, physical, environmental, and financial condition. However, you can also conduct an assessment on your own.
Next time you’re at your parents’ home, here are four steps you can take to evaluate their level of home safety and gauge their general sense of well-being.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled in the Kitchen
Rapid weight gain or loss can be a sign of serious medical problems or a sign that your loved one is having trouble preparing food. Many conditions, including depression and cancer, can cause weight loss, and a person who is having trouble getting out to shop or remembering how to cook can lose weight. Common causes of weight gain include diabetes and dementia, and someone with money troubles may choose fewer fresh foods and more packaged goods.
You’ll want to evaluate food, nutrition, and kitchen safety. Here are some things to look for:
- Do they keep a well-stocked pantry and a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables?
- Is there expired or rotten food in the refrigerator?
- Can they easily operate a microwave?
- Can they prepare a meal without assistance?
- Do they have a healthy appetite?
- Are they able to buy groceries independently? If not, are they using a grocery delivery or a meal delivery service?
- Are they aware of foods that may interact adversely with their medications?
Look Inside the Medicine Cabinet
For many seniors who have chronic diseases, taking a daily medication is essential for maintaining health and quality of life. As the number of drugs taken increases, harmful interactions can occur. More medications means increased risk of negative interactions. Because drug-related medical problems are so common in older adults, it’s important to ensure you and your loved one stay on top of what they are taking and be watchful for changes in symptoms.
You’ll want to pay special attention to their medications and health status. Here are some things to look for:
- Have they visited a dentist, optometrist, or physician in the past year?
- If they wear glasses, are their glasses in good shape?
- Do they show any signs of poor vision such as squinting or sitting too close to the TV?
- Are they maintaining a healthy, consistent weight? Have you noticed any weight loss?
- Are you aware of what medications and supplements they are taking?
- Are they taking medications properly and as directed?
Watch Them Get Around the House
The changes that occur with aging can lead to problems with a person’s ability to move around. Muscle weakness, joint problems, pain, disease, and neurological (brain and nervous system) difficulties — common conditions in older people — can all contribute to mobility problems. The No. 1 mobility problem that older people experience is falls. One in three seniors over 65 experience a fall every year, and even minor slips, trips, and falls can lead to major trauma in older adults.
When you’re at home, observe your parents’ mobility and functioning. Here are some things to look for:
- Are they able to walk independently indoors and outdoors? Do they have a steady gait and appear stable when walking?
- Are they able to retrieve mail and newspapers safely?
- If there are stairs in the home, are they able to walk up and down safely?
- Are they able to get in and out of bed safely?
- Are they free of signs that may indicate a recent fall such as bruising or scratches?
- If they use a cane, walker, or scooter, are these aids in good shape and being used effectively?
- If they are still driving, do they have a current driver’s license? If you have driven with them recently, are they driving safely?
- If they are not driving, are they able to easily arrange for transportation as needed?
Do a DIY Home Inspection
Although your parents might enjoy owning a home, the upkeep may be more than they can handle. From shoveling the sidewalk after a snow shower to changing a lightbulb in the hallway to mowing the lawn, home ownership can be stressful on people as they age.
Talk to them about whether they’d prefer to live in a place where they won’t have to worry about housework, maintenance, and upkeep, and pay special attention to house and home safety. Here are some things to look for:
- Is the home well-lighted, easy to navigate, and free of fall risks, such as open extension cords and loose rugs?
- Do interior stairs have railings on both sides?
- Are working night-lights placed appropriately throughout the house?
- Are the electrical systems functioning properly and safely?
- Is the house reasonably clean and tidy? Is the house stocked with dish soap, laundry soap, and other cleaning supplies?
- Are the trash bins picked up and managed properly?
- Are the fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide detectors, and smoke detectors functioning?
- Is there a phone or emergency call system easily accessible in all rooms?
- Are the pets being cared for adequately?
If you have already have an inkling that your mom or dad is having trouble with everyday life, this assessment will help you spot common problems. And if you notice something is off, consider getting their doctor involved. They may share your concerns about your parent’s safety at home, explaining what seems to be wrong and suggesting options for fixing it, without risking a strained relationship.
Although every situation is different, there are some telling signs that your loved one should no longer be living alone.
Download our guide “7 Warning Signs It’s Time to Make the Move to Assisted Living” to see if it may be time for a talk about senior housing options.