To keep your parents safe at home—and prevent falls and injuries—they need to have the right equipment on hand. Here are the essential items to help make your loved ones’ daily lives easier, less stressful, and more secure, plus what to have ready in case of an emergency.
As your parents get older, you worry about their physical and emotional health along with the challenges or emergencies they might face living on their own. You want to make sure they are safe and protected from falls, fires, and natural disasters like hurricanes and floods. Being able to anticipate and prevent potential hazards is crucial for their safety—and your peace of mind.
“With just a few safety measures you can help prevent falls and accidents, which can protect your parents and may even allow them to live at home longer,” says Amy Seigel, RN, BSN, a Certified Care Manager and the CEO and General Manager of Advocare, a professional care management company that is part of TheKey and performs home safety assessments.
Where do you start? Check your parents’ living space for some essential safety equipment and then install what’s missing. Not only will this help your mom and dad get around more easily and reduce injury risk, but it can also make them feel more confident and independent. Research backs this up: A 2019 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that home modifications can reduce caregiving needs for older adults, make it easier for them to move around, and help foster independence.
Here’s how to make your parents’ home as safe as possible.
The Everyday Safety Items Your Parents Might Need
Medical alert device: These small, mobile devices allow your parents to call for help with the push of a button. They will immediately be connected to a dispatcher who will send emergency assistance if necessary. Some of these devices also offer GPS as well as automatic fall protection, which detects if your loved one falls and notifies a dispatcher. A medical alert device may be worn as a watch, wristband, or necklace. Your parents should wear them at all times, Seigel says, including in the shower (be sure to purchase one that’s waterproof).
Nonskid mats: Research shows that area rugs are among the top slipping and tripping hazards for older adults. Replace them with nonskid mats that stay in place on tile, wood, laminate, and other types of bare floors. Check the mats often to make sure no edges are coming up, and replace them as needed.
Grab bars: Grab bars offer extra support for everyday activities like bathing and sitting down on and getting up from the toilet. “Be sure grab bars are properly installed by a professional,” advises Seigel. Have them installed inside and outside the shower or tub and next to all toilets. If either or both of your parents have balance or mobility issues, you should also have bars installed in hallways and near their bed. Every few months, check all grab bars to make sure they are securely attached to walls.
Shower chairs: These water-resistant, nonslip chairs go inside the shower or tub so that your loved one can sit down while bathing to prevent falls. Choose a chair with a back for extra stability.
An elevated toilet or a toilet seat riser: A taller commode, or a riser that adds height, makes getting on and off the toilet easier for an older adult who has trouble sitting and standing up again. Choose a toilet riser with arms if they need something to hold onto in order to stand up, Seigel says.
Motion-detecting night-lights and LED strips: Proper lighting helps prevent falls and disorientation, especially at night. Put LED light strips in bathrooms, hallways, stairways, and other areas where your parents walk. These are widely available and quick and easy to install—just peel off the backing and stick them to a surface. Make sure the path from the bedroom to the bathroom is particularly well-lit.
It’s also a good idea to place motion-detecting night-lights in bathrooms, the kitchen, the living room, and any other area where your parents might find themselves at night. If your loved ones have a pet that needs to be let out, install motion-sensing lights outdoors as well. And put motion-sensor LED strips leading up to and around the door they use to let the dog out. Check the lights regularly (at least once a month) to be certain they are working properly.
Automatic shutoff safety devices: Buy your parents appliances such as coffee makers, electric tea kettles, slow cookers, and toaster ovens with automatic shutoff features (older models often don’t have this capability). You can also purchase and install shutoff devices for electric and gas stoves.
Medication organizers: If your parents take medications, buy an organizer for each of them. A pill organizer makes it easier for them to keep track of their meds and minimize errors, such as taking too much, or skipping a dose, Seigel says.
Ramps: If your parents have mobility or balance issues and use a walker, wheelchair, or mobility scooter, install ramps with handrails at the front and back doors of the house. You can buy sturdy portable ramps at many home improvement or medical supply stores starting at about $200, depending on your needs. This saves you from the expense of hiring a contractor to build and install a ramp, which typically costs about $2,000. Plus, a portable ramp can be moved as needed.
And, of course, make sure there are smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your parents’ home. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that you test your smoke alarms and change the replaceable batteries in these detectors at least once a year.
What Your Parents Will Need in Case of an Emergency
Aside from everyday safety items, there are a number of things your parents will need if there’s a bad storm, the power goes out, or they have to evacuate their home with little notice. Here’s what to have ready:
An emergency action plan: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests you create a detailed evacuation plan and review it regularly to see if any information needs to be updated. The plan should include places your parents can go if they need to leave their home along with details on how to get there and steps they should take, like calling you right away to let you know they’ve arrived. In addition, your plan should list phone numbers for physicians, hospitals, an ambulance service, and the local police and fire departments. And be sure to include the phone numbers of relatives, friends, and neighbors.
Other things to include in your action plan:
- A copy of their health insurance cards
- A list of all their medications along with exact dosages and the names and phone numbers of their pharmacy and primary care doctor
- A list of any allergies to foods or medicines
- A copy of their photo IDs
- A copy of their immunization records
A packed bag of essentials: As part of possible evacuation prep, put together a bag that includes:
- Change of clothes for each, including underwear and incontinence briefs, if needed, and socks
- Extra pair of shoes
- Extra glasses
- Medications (enough for a week to 10 days)
- First-aid kit and supplies
- Phone charger
Store everything in a sturdy bag and place it in a coat closet or another easily accessible place on the first floor of the house. Like the action plan, go through this bag every six months and add more items if necessary.
Batteries and portable chargers: To be ready for an extended power outage, keep batteries of different sizes in a central location in your parents’ home. Have flashlights throughout and check their batteries every six months. Get portable phone chargers that don’t need to be connected to an outlet to recharge your parents’ cell phones. They’re available on Amazon and start at about $20.
Water and nonperishable food: Keep at least a three-day supply of food that requires no cooking or other preparation in a designated area. Good choices include protein bars; canned meat, fruits, or vegetables along with a can opener; peanut butter; cereal or granola; nuts; and dried fruit. Make sure they have plenty of water as well: At least one gallon per person per day is a good guideline, according to the CDC. Check the food supply every six months to ensure that the items haven’t passed their freshness date.
Consider an Extra Level of Safety
If your aging parents live a long drive or flight away, updating and maintaining safety items can be a challenge. In this case, designate a reliable person, like a neighbor, relative, or family friend who lives close by, and ask them to regularly check in and confirm all safety and emergency items are in good working order.
Home care can also be a helpful and effective option. Even if you live close by, the insights of a care management professional who is well-versed in older adults’ needs can be invaluable. Plus, a professional caregiver—in addition to providing your parents with care and companionship—can double-check that the safety items in your parents’ home are well maintained. That can free you up so that when you visit, you can spend time with your parents in a meaningful way.