A typical day of a working family caregiver, over and above the employer’s demands, includes making To Do lists for the aging parent or relative. Even family caregivers who don’t work outside the home make lists to help remember what needs to be done. And the lists are long and some get re-prioritized daily. We know how important it is for this list to include home safety for the aging seniors. In order not to worry about them constantly we suggest regularly walking through a home safety checklist. Another good one can be found on local Area Agency for the Aging websites.
Here’s a list adapted from “Safety for Older Consumer Home Safety Checklist,” U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. It’ll help ensure home safety for the elder and everyone’s peace of mind.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission believes that many injuries older Americans suffer through and treated for occur in and around their homes. CPSC suggests that many injuries result from hazards overlooked but are easy to fix. If we could take some time to spot these and make simple corrections, many injuries could be avoided. And the last thing we want is our aging parent getting hurt.
The CPSC says to use this checklist for possible safety problems that may be present. First walk through the home with the checklist, marking YES or NO to answer each question. Then go back over the list and take action correcting these items of hazard.
All Areas of the Elder’s Home
Check all electrical, telephone and computer cords; rugs, runners and mats. Check smoke detectors and electrical outlets and switches and bulbs. Don’t forget space heaters, wood burning stoves.
Are these cords placed out of traffic flow?
Are cords out from beneath furniture, carpet and rugs?
Remember cords that stretch across walkways may cause tripping. Arrange the furniture so outlets are available for lamps and appliances without using extension cords. If extensions are required then place them on the floor against a wall and tape them there.
In the Kitchen
Check the range area and make sure all cords, the lighting, stools and rugs are out of the walkway.
The range or stove; are towels and curtains away from fire hazard?
Storing non-cooking equipment like potholders, dishtowels, or plastic utensils on or near the range could result in fires or burns. Store flammable and combustible items away from range and oven. Remove any towels hanging on oven handles.
Do you wear clothing with short or close-fitting sleeves while you are cooking?
CPSC estimates that 70% of all people who die from clothing fires are over 65 years of age. Long sleeves are more likely to catch fire than are short sleeves.
Long sleeves are also more apt to catch on pot handles, overturning pots and pans and causing scalds.
Roll back long, loose sleeves or fasten them with pins or elastic bands while you are cooking.
Are kitchen ventilation systems or ranges exhaust functioning properly and are they in use while you are cooking?
Indoor air pollutants may accumulate to unhealthful levels in a kitchen where gas or kerosene-fire appliances are in use. Use ventilation systems or open windows to clear air of vapors and smoke.
Are all extension cords and appliance cords located away from the sink or range areas?
Electrical appliances and power cords can cause shock or electrocution if they come in contact with water. Cords can also be damaged by excess heat. Move cords and appliances away from sink areas and hot surfaces. Move appliances closer to wall outlets or to different outlets so you won’t need extension cords. If extension cords must be used, install wiring guides so that cords will not hang near sink, range, or working areas.
Consider adding new outlets for convenience and safety; ask your electrician to install outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to protect against electric shock. A GFCI is a shock-protection device that will detect electrical fault and shut off electricity before serious injury or death occurs.
Does good, even lighting exist over the stove, sink, and countertop work areas, especially where food is sliced or cut?
Low lighting and glare can contribute to burns or cuts. Improve lighting. Open curtains and blinds (unless this causes to much glare). Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage for the fixture, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)
Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing the blinds or curtains. Install additional light fixtures under cabinet or over counter-top lighting. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.
Is the step stool in good repair?
Standing on chairs, boxes, or other makeshift items to reach high shelves can result in falls. If you don’t have a step stool, consider buying one. Choose one with a handrail that you can hold onto while standing on the top step.
Before climbing on any step stool, make sure it is fully opened and stable. Tighten screws and braces on the step stool. Discard step stools with broken parts.
In the Living Room/Family Room
Check all rugs and runners, electrical and telephone cords, lighting, the fireplace and chimney, the telephone area, and all passageways.
Are chimneys clear from accumulations of leaves and other debris that can clog them?
Did you know that a clogged chimney could cause a poorly burning fire resulting in poisonous fumes and smoke coming back into the house? Have the chimney checked and cleaned by a registered or licensed professional.
Has the chimney been cleaned within the last year?
A burning wood fireplace can cause a build up of a tarry substance or creosote inside the chimney. This material can ignite and result in a serious chimney fire. Have the chimney checked and cleaned by a registered or licensed professional.
Check lighting in hallways. Are passageways between rooms and other heavy traffic well lit?
Shadowed or dark areas can hide tripping hazards. Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)
Install night-lights. Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing blinds or curtains. Consider using additional lamps or light fixtures. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.
Furniture, boxes, or other items could be an obstruction or tripping hazard, especially in the event of an emergency or fire. Rearrange furniture to open passageways and walkways. Remove boxes and clutter.
Remember: Check the Living Room/Family Room and passageways for all items under “All Areas of the Home” above.
In the bathroom, check bathtub and shower areas, water temperature, rugs and mats, lighting, small electrical appliances, and storage areas for medications.
CHECK BATHTUB AND SHOWER AREAS
Wet soapy tile or porcelain surfaces are especially slippery and may contribute to falls. Apply textured strips or appliqu?s on the floors of tubs and showers. Use non-skid mats in the tub and shower, and on the bathroom floor.
Do bathtubs and showers have at least one, preferably two grab bars?
Grab bars can help you get into and out of your tub or shower, and can help prevent falls. Check existing bars for strength and stability, and repair if necessary.
Attach grab bars, through the tile, to structural supports in the wall, or install bars specifically designed to attach to the sides of the bathtub. If you are not sure how it is done, get someone who is qualified to assist you.
Water temperature above 120 degrees can cause tap water scalds. Lower the setting on your hot water heater to “Low” or 120 degrees. If you are unfamiliar with the controls of your water heater, ask a qualified. Is the temperature 120 degrees or lower?
NOTE: If the water heater does not have a temperature setting, you can use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water at the tap.
Always check water temperature by hand before entering bath or shower. Taking baths, rather than showers, reduces the risk of a scald from suddenly changing water temperatures.
Is a light switch located near the entrance to the bathroom?
A light switch near the door will prevent you from walking through a dark area. Install a night-light. Inexpensive lights that plug into outlets are available.
Consider replacing the existing switch with a “glow switch” that can be seen in the dark.
Check Small Electrical Appliances
Are small electrical appliances such as hair dryers, shavers, curling irons, etc., unplugged when not in use?
Even an appliance that is not turned on, such as a hairdryer, can be potentially hazardous if it is left plugged in. If it falls into water in a sink or bathtub while plugged in, it could cause a lethal shock.
Unplug all small appliances when not in use. Never reach into water to retrieve an appliance that has fallen in without being sure the appliance is unplugged. Install a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) in your bathroom outlet to protect against electric shock.
Are all medicines stored in the containers that they came in and are they clearly marked?
Medications that are not clearly and accurately labeled can be easily mixed up. Taking the wrong medicine or missing a dosage of medicine you need, can be dangerous.
Be sure that all containers are clearly marked with the contents, doctor’s instructions, expiration date, and patient’s name. Dispose of outdated medicines properly.
**Request non-child-resistant closures from your pharmacist only when you cannot use child-resistant closures.
NOTE: Many poisonings occur when children visiting grandparents go through the medicine cabinet or grandmother’s purse. In homes where grandchildren or youngsters are frequent visitors, medicines should be purchased in containers with child-resistant caps, and the caps properly closed after each use. Store medicines beyond the reach of children.
In the bedroom, check all rugs and runners, electrical and telephone cords, and areas around beds.
Check Areas Around Beds
Are lamps or light switches within reach of each bed?
Lamps or switches located close to each bed will enable people getting up at night to see where they are going. Rearrange furniture closer to switches or move lamps closer to beds and install night-lights.
Are ashtrays, smoking materials, or other fire sources (heaters, hot plates, teapots, etc.) located away from beds or bedding?
Burns are a leading cause of accidental death among seniors. Smoking in bed is a major contributor to this problem. Between mattress and bedding fire related deaths in a recent year, 42% were to persons 65 or older.
Remove sources of heat or flame from areas around beds. Don’t smoke in bed.
Is anything covering your electric blanket when in use?
“Tucking in” electric blankets, or placing additional coverings on top of them can cause excessive heat build up which can start a fire.
Do you avoid “tucking in” the sides or ends of your electric blanket?
Use electric blankets according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t allow anything on top of the blanket while it is in use. (This includes other blankets or comforters, even pets sleeping on top of the blanket.)
Don’t set electric blankets so high that they could burn someone who falls asleep while they are on.
Do you ever go to sleep with a heating pad while turned on? Yes No
Is there a telephone close to your bed?
*In case of an emergency, it is important to be able to reach the telephone without getting out of bed.
In the basement, garage, workshop, and storage areas, check lighting; fuse boxes or circuit breakers, appliances and power tools, electrical cords, and flammable liquids.
Are work areas, especially areas where power tools are used, well lit?
Good lighting can reduce the chance that you will accidentally cut your finger. Either install additional light, or avoid working with power tools in the area.
Can you turn on the lights without first having to walk through a dark area?
Basement, garages, and storage areas can contain many tripping hazards and sharp or pointed tools that can make a fall even more hazardous. Keep an operating flashlight handy. Have an electrician install switches at each entrance to a dark area.
Check the fuse box or circuit breakers
If fuses are used, are they the correct size for the circuit?
Replacing a correct size fuse with a larger size fuse can present a serious fire hazard. If the fuse in the box is rater higher than that intended for the circuit, excessive current will be allowed to flow and possibly overload the outlet and house wiring to the point that a fire can begin.
Be certain that correct-size fuses are used. (If you do not know the correct sizes, consider having an electrician identify and label the sizes to be used.)
NOTE: If all, or nearly all, fuses used are 30-amp fuses, there is a chance that some of the fuses are rated too high for the circuit.
Check appliances and power tools
Are power tools equipped with a 3-prong plug or marked to show that they are double insulated?
These safety features reduce the risk of an electric shock. Use a properly connected 3-prong adapter for connecting a 3-prong plug to a 2-hole receptacle. Consider replacing old tools that have neither a 3-prong plug nor are double insulated.
Are power tools guards in place?
Power tools used with guards removed pose a serious risk of injury from sharp edges or moving parts. Replace guards that have been removed from power tools.
Has the grounding feature on any 3-prong plug been defeated by removal of the grounding pin or by improperly using an adapter?
*Improperly grounded appliances can lead to electric shock. Check with your service person or an electrician if you are in doubt.
Check flammable and volatile liquids
Are containers of volatile liquids tightly capped?
*If not tightly closed, vapors may escape that may be toxic when inhaled. Check containers periodically to make sure they are tightly closed.
**CPSC has reports of several cases in which gasoline, stored as much as 10 feet from a gas water heater, exploded. Many people are unaware that gas fumes can travel that far.
Are gasoline, paints, solvents, or other products that give off vapors or fumes stored away from ignition sources?
*Gasoline, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored out of living areas in properly labeled, non-glass safety containers. Remove these products from the areas near heat or flame such as heaters, furnaces, water heaters, ranges, and other gas appliances.
For all stairways, check lighting, handrails, and the condition of the steps and coverings.
*Stairs should be lighted so that each step, particularly the step edges, can be clearly seen while going up and down stairs. The lighting should not produce glare or shadows along the stairway.
*Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the light fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)
*Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing blinds and curtains.
Have a qualified person add additional light fixtures. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.
Are light switches located at both the top and bottom of the stairs?
Even if you are very familiar with the stairs, lighting is an important factor in preventing falls. You should be able to turn on the lights before you use the stairway from either end.
*If no other light is available, keep an operating flashlight in a convenient location at the top and bottom of the stairs. Install night-lights at nearby outlets. Consider installing switches at the top and bottom of the stairs.
Do the steps allow secure footing?
Worn treads or worn or loose carpeting can lead to insecure footing, resulting in slips or falls. Try to avoid wearing only socks or smooth-soled shoes or slippers when using stairs. Make certain the carpet is firmly attached to the steps all along the stairs.
Consider refinishing or replacing worn treads, or replacing worn carpeting. Paint outside steps with paint that has a rough texture, or use abrasive strips.
Are steps even and have the same size and height?
Even a small difference in step surfaces or riser heights can lead to falls. Mark any steps, which are especially narrow or have risers that are higher or lower than the others. Be especially careful of these steps when using the stairs.
Are the coverings on the steps in good condition?
Worn or torn coverings or nails sticking out from coverings could snag your foot or cause you to trip. Repair coverings. Remove coverings. Replace coverings.
Can you clearly see the edges of the steps?
Falls may occur if the edges of the steps are blurred or hard to see. Paint edges of outdoor steps white to see them better at night. Add extra lighting.
If you plan to carpet your stairs, avoid deep pile carpeting or patterned or dark colored carpeting that can make it difficult to see the edges of the steps clearly.
Is anything stored on the stairway, even temporarily?
People can trip over objects left on stairs, particularly in the event of an emergency or fire. Remove all objects from the stairway.
*** REMEMBER PERIODICALLY TO RE-CHECK YOUR HOME! ***