Why You Need an In-Home Safety Assessment

Most of us want to stay independent as we age—for as long as possible! We also want to have control over where we live. We like to think of our homes as our refuge. Ironically, home is the place where we are most likely to hurt ourselves. 

This is especially true as we get older. For seniors, falling is the biggest risk. One in four adults aged 65 or older fall each year. Nearly 80% of those falls happen in and around the home. There are other dangers, as well, that can result in fatal and non-fatal injuries. That is why it is so important to have a home safety assessment once we get to a certain age. A home safety assessment is a tool for checking your home for common safety hazards. 

Who Does a Home Safety Assessment?

There are a range of home safety assessments out there, depending on your goals and your budget. The CDC has a DIY home safety checklist that is one place to start. 

For most seniors, though, it’s better to work with a health professional. Health professionals such as occupational therapists (OTs) and some medical social workers are trained to identify safety risks for seniors. Home safety assessments ordered by a doctor will most likely be covered by Medicare, minus any copay.

Another option is to work with a certified aging-in-place specialist, otherwise known as CAPS. CAPS receive certification from the National Association of Home Builders. CAPS specialize in understanding the unique safety needs of seniors. They help seniors age in place safely. CAPS are often home designers or contractors and are not health professionals (though sometimes OTs will become certified as CAPS). They make recommendations for modifications that can make your home easier and safer to navigate. CAPS usually charge by the hour. Hourly rates are as low as $22, but they vary widely. 

Other assessments are conducted by businesses that specialize in extensive home safety evaluations and renovations. One company, Age Safe America, has their own certification process for home safety inspections. Their extensive 240-point assessment costs between $199-$399 out of pocket. 

What is Included in a Home Safety Assessment?

A home assessment will typically evaluate your home room by room, including entryways and any outdoor spaces that are used. It will identify trouble spots and make suggestions for modifications.

Home safety assessments will pay particular attention to areas that pose a risk for falling.

  • Throw rugs Throw rugs are particularly hazardous for seniors. Your foot or your cane or walker can get tangled in the edge of the rug. Throw rugs, especially small ones with no sticky backing, can also slide across the floor, making for a very unstable walking surface. People often have throw rugs at the entryways, which are their own hazard.
  • Thresholds Thresholds are strips of wood or metal that lay at the bottom of doorways. Thresholds create an airtight seal for your house, but they pose a risk for falling, especially if you are unsteady on your feet. Watch out for decorative thresholds between hard floor surfaces and carpeting as well.
  • Bathrooms Slippery bathtubs are risky at any age—remember bathing your kids when they we little? As we age, those slippery surfaces get harder to safely navigate. The greatest risk is getting in and out of the shower and bathtub.
  • Pets Pets can also pose a risk for falling. They like to walk close to you, circle around your feet, and sometimes jump on you when you’re walking.

A home assessment will look at other problem areas as well. Common questions your assessor should be asking are:

  • Is the lighting sufficient and easily accessible in all areas of the home, especially kitchen, bathroom, walkways? 
  • Are there loose wires that can be tripped over? Are there frayed wires that could lead to an electrical fire?
  • Are smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors in proper working order? Are the batteries up-to-date?
  • Are there any loose handrails or stairs that need to be fixed? 
  • Is there a bench or shelf for packages at the entryway?

How Do I Get a Home Safety Assessment? 

If you have had a recent hospital stay, your doctor may order a home safety assessment. Your doctor can also order one if you have had a recent fall or believes you are at risk for falling

If you or your family have concerns about your safety in your home, it doesn’t hurt to ask for one before you have a fall or land in the hospital. Your doctor can conduct a risk assessment for falling that looks at issues like balance, strength, and mobility. Not all doctors will be proactive on this. Don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s always a good idea to be your own advocate or have a trusted family member act as one for you.

Home Modifications Can Keep You Safe

A home safety assessment is effective only if you heed at some of the recommendations. 

Several modifications are quick fixes and don’t cost a lot of money. Other modifications require a little something more. Some even call for hiring a contractor. 

Quick-fix modifications  

  • Install motion sensor lighting.
  • Check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors.
  • Have fire extinguishers handy.
  • Move clutter off floors.
  • Arrange furniture to have clear pathways.
  • Install grab bars and non-stick mat in bathing area.
  • Put a seat in the shower and install a handheld shower head.

Moderate modifications

  • Fix broken stairs and hand rails.
  • Put handrails on both sides of the stairs.
  • Install a raised-seat toilet.
  • Make a cutout in the bathtub to create a walk-in bathing option.

Expensive modifications

  • Widen doorways into the home and between rooms.
  • Widen hallways.
  • Install a ramp for wheelchair access.
  • Change kitchen cabinetry and layout to make shelving more accessible and moving about easier.
  • Replace flooring to eliminate thresholds between rooms.

Medicare won’t pay for retrofits in the home, though some Medicare Advantage plans pay for minor fixes. Ask your doctor or your local council on aging for resources on financial assistance.  

Home safety assessments and home modifications can keep you safely in your home for longer. 

Have questions about safely aging in place? Need help knowing where to start? Contact us to set up a call. We can help!