Millions of seniors choose to live independently rather than move to a residential care facility. According to the Institute on Aging, over 11 million seniors live alone. If your loved one is among those who choose to live on their own, you may worry about their safety and ability to manage their daily tasks. Medical alert systems and home modifications are both useful tools to enable independence for your aging loved one so they can continue to live where they feel most comfortable.
When Is The Right Time to Make Home Modifications?
There is no singular “right time” to make home modifications for a senior who lives alone. However, if you worry about your loved one’s safety in their home or ability to complete their daily routines, home modifications can help. Which home modifications you need to make will also vary based on the specific safety hazards or risks that your loved one faces.
Evaluating Safety Hazards
Below are some factors that influence which safety hazards your loved one may face while living independently:
- Mobility: How are your loved one’s balance and steadiness while walking? Mobility-related safety hazards include stairs, uneven or slippery flooring, and items such as pet accessories or cords that may be trip hazards.
- Meal Preparation and Cooking: Does your loved one still prepare their own meals? Cooking may pose a risk for fire and burns if your loved one cannot safely operate cooking appliances or forgets to turn off the oven or stove.
- Home Management: Is your loved one able to handle home maintenance such as checking water heaters? If not managed and looked after properly, heating appliances may cause house fires.
- Medication Management: Is your loved one able to stick to their medication schedule? Do you worry about them taking the proper dose of their prescriptions?
- Health and Safety: Does your loved one keep a phone on them at all times so they can call for help during an emergency? Many caregivers worry about their loved one’s ability to call for assistance if a medical emergency or incident does occur.
Paying for Home Modifications
While some home modifications are just simple fixes, others are more expensive. In some cases, the cost may be prohibitive. Insurance typically does not cover the cost of home modifications, but there are other options for financial assistance.
Some financial assistance options for home modifications include:
- Financial Loans: Government organizations may offer low-interest loans for home modifications. Some may also guarantee loans so that it is easier to get assistance from a bank. This option still requires you to pay the money back over time but can make it easier to afford home modifications versus paying for it all at once. FHA Title 1 loans are loans specifically intended for home improvement and may be of use for some home modification projects.
- Equipment Loans: As opposed to financial loans, equipment loans do not actually involve any money. Some organizations may allow seniors to rent home modification equipment for a long-term period, meaning they can continue using the equipment as long as they need it. The materials will need to be returned after the user no longer needs them.
- Free or Discounted Labor: Charities or other nonprofit organizations may volunteer to help caregivers and seniors install home modification equipment. While you will still need to pay for the materials, you can save money and time that would have been spent on installation.
- Home Modification Grants: You may be able to get a home modification grant, which will cover the entire cost of making the modification. Grants are usually for a specific modification, such as installing handrails. Check with your local Area Agency on Aging to see what grant programs are available.
Ways to Prevent Common Emergencies and Injuries
Health-Related Incidents and Medical Emergencies
Many seniors face health problems, and dealing with a medical emergency may be difficult if they live alone. Given the severity and unpredictability of medical emergencies, many caregivers feel anxious over what will happen to their loved one if they suffer such an incident. Home modifications and medical alert systems cannot fully prevent medical emergencies, but make it easier for seniors who live alone to get the help they need.
The following home modifications may help prevent or be useful in the event of a medical emergency:
- An automatic medication dispenser can assist seniors in sticking to a medication schedule and ensures they take the proper dose
- Install a lockbox outside of the home with a spare key inside to provide an easy way for emergency services to enter the home. You can also give the lockbox code to a friend or neighbor so they can check in on your loved one.
- An in-home call box inside of the home provides an easy way to contact emergency services
- Place activity and motion sensors in the home so you can monitor if your loved one is not going about their day as usual
Medical Alert Systems
Medical alert systems are a great way to ensure your loved one can get the help they need in the event of a medical emergency. If the user is wearing the device when an emergency occurs, they can simply press a button and immediately connect with an emergency monitoring center. The process is much faster than dialing emergency services via phone, and many medical alert systems have caregiver notification features so you will know right away if your loved one is in need.
Some systems go beyond the basics with health monitoring features. These advanced devices may monitor the user’s heart rate, or provide the option of having an operator conduct a daily check-in call with the user. The Apple Watch also offers several health-related apps that may be of use to seniors who live independently.
House Fires and Burns
Burns and house fires are a concern for anyone, especially seniors who live independently. Older adults may be more likely to make forgetful mistakes that can lead to fires or burns, or have a harder time handling the situation if one does occur. If you worry about your loved one suffering a burn or dealing with a house fire, consider the following options.
Some simple home modifications for burns and fires include:
- Keep all heaters at least three feet away from flammable items such as furniture
- Stove burner covers can reduce the risk of a cooking-related incident
- Check the water heater to make sure it is set at the correct temperature
- Replace old appliances on schedule to prevent wiring-related fires
Medical Alert Systems
Most top medical alert systems can help users in all types of emergencies, not just medical situations. In most cases, when a user connects with the emergency monitoring center, operators will ask them which services they are in need of (ambulance, fire department, etc). A medical alert system provides an easy, fast way for users to get in touch with the fire department if a fire does occur. Check the specifics of a provider’s monitoring center and operator services to make sure it gives users the option to call the fire department.
Falling is a risk for all seniors, regardless of whether they live alone. According to the CDC, millions of older people fall each year. If your loved one lives alone, you may worry about them getting help after a fall to reduce the likelihood that the fall results in a serious injury, or are concerned about what will happen if they are injured after falling and cannot get up. To ease your worry and make things easier for your loved one, consider the following options.
These home modifications can reduce the likelihood of a fall:
- Tuck all cords under furniture or tape them to the side
- Ensure all walkways are clear of pet accessories and other small items
- Install slip-proof flooring
- Install handrails on stairs or any areas with uneven flooring
- Walk-in tubs and shower seats can reduce the risk of falls in the bathroom
- Stairlifts are useful if your loved one has difficulty with balance and climbing stairs
Medical Alert Systems
Most providers of medical alert systems offer some devices with automatic fall detection. Automatic fall detection provides users who are prone to falls with extra protection. The devices have built-in motion sensors that can detect when a fall occurs. If a fall is detected, a call to the emergency monitoring center is automatically placed. Users do not even need to press their personal help button to let someone know that they are in need of assistance.