Room-by-Room Guide to Senior Home Safety

Maintaining independence is important to all adults, but as people age, living alone can become dangerous. Of particular concern is the fact that there's no one around to help you in a medical emergency like a fall.

Before you think, "That'll never happen to me," consider that nearly 29% of Americans 65+ fall each year. Since there's currently more than 54.1 million people in the US over the age of 65, that means over 15 million of them have fallen in the last 12 months.1,2

And most of them aren't falling while doing dangerous stunts—an estimated 43% to 60% of falls happen inside the home during a daily routine.3,4,10 

In short, falls are a big deal for older people and their loved ones. We'll focus mainly on fall prevention in this guide, but we'll also cover some other senior safety tips to help you prevent or plan for emergencies related to chronic health conditions, medication side effects, burglaries, and even online scams.

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Medical Guardian set

Medical alert systems

The big picture for senior home safety begins with a medical alert system. These life-saving wearables keep seniors in constant communication with emergency response services as well as loved ones and caregivers. If a senior falls, has a heart attack, or senses something is wrong, they can push a button to call for help.

Indoor cameras

Indoor cameras

Older people might have in-home caretakers, maintenance staff, or other hired help who come and go. That’s where indoor cameras come in handy. Indoor cameras keep a watchful eye on the home to protect against theft, abuse, and other crimes. If you’re interested in an indoor camera, check out our best home security camera picks.

frontpoint security devices and screens on computer interface

Home security systems

Home security systems protect people from break-ins, carbon monoxide poisoning, fires, and more. Adult children can also use senior-friendly home automation technology to keep an eye on their aging parents from afar. Explore the top home security systems to see how this technology keeps people safe.

Take a look at other top senior safety devices to equip yourself or family members with the best technology out there.

Room-by-room guide to a safer home for seniors

Bedroom

Most at-home falls (around 33%) take place in the bedroom.10 Let's start our room-by-room evaluation there.

Evaluate tripping hazards

Slipping or tripping caused about 64% of falls in one study.4 Make sure the pathways around your bed are clear of clutter and that the carpet isn't wrinkling.

For example, keep shoes tucked under the bed, off to the side, or on a shoe rack so you don't have to step around or over them. Dirty clothes should go in a hamper, not on the floor. Even those might-be-worn-again clothes should go on a hook rather than the floor.

Carpets can pucker up as they age. Consider tacking down the problem spot if you don't want to have the entire carpet re-stretched or replaced. Beware of rug edges too—use thin-profile rugs, secure them with non-skid mats, and be extra mindful about lifting your feet at the rug's edge. 

Light Bulb
Start doing balance exercises

A typical fall for people 65+ happens when they're simply walking and lose their balance.4 

Losing your balance is a natural part of the aging process,12 but that doesn't mean you have to leave your balance up to fate. Balance exercises can keep you steady on your feet.

Check out the National Institute on Aging for specific exercises and helpful videos.

Install bed rails

Seniors can also fall when getting in and out of bed. Install a bed rail to give yourself something to push up against and lean on. 

Plan for fire evacuations

Mobility issues are the most common disability among people over age 65. In fact, about ten million older people in the US struggle with mobility issues.7 Seniors who have a difficult time getting around need to plan ahead for a fire evacuation, since the usual protocol of "move quickly and stay low" may be a tall order. Using fire escape ladders is also out of the question for many older adults. 

If the fire happens during the night when you're tucked into bed, you're already at a disadvantage:

  • The fire alarm must be loud enough for you to hear and to wake up. Get a bed-shaker if you have hearing loss.
  • Upon waking, you need to have enough cognitive clarity to understand what's going on and what you need to do. Practicing a fire drill can help keep your mind sharp and ready for this scenario.
  • Once you're awake and aware of what's going on, you need to start moving. Make sure your wheelchair, walker, or cane is within easy reach. 
  • In an ideal scenario, you're sleeping on ground-level with an exterior door in your bedroom for a speedy getaway. The greater distance between you and an outside door, the more danger you're in during a house fire. Remember, you've only got three minutes to get out.14
  • If you're unable to evacuate in three minutes, you need a back-up plan that lets you hunker down in your bedroom and stave off the fire until firefighters arrive.
    • Sign up for a smoke alarm monitoring service so that the fire department is dispatched as soon as possible. 
    • Keep a fire blanket within reach of your bed and practice wrapping yourself in it.
    • Keep a lightweight fire extinguisher within reach too and use it to keep flames away from your door. 
    • Beware the dangers of exposing oxygen canisters to flames. Don't take them with you during your evacuation. 
  • There are also some home renovations you can undertake to make your bedroom as fireproof as possible:
    • Install a sprinkler system.
    • Install a fire door.
    • Use mineral wool insulation inside your walls, between floor joists, and in the attic. 
    • Paint the walls with flame-retardant primer and paint. 
Bell
Be extra careful if you smoke

Most house fires in which older adults perish were started by a simple cigarette (or other smoking paraphernalia).16 

If you smoke, be extremely cautious about smoking in bed, around oxygen tanks, or around gas stoves. 

Keep valuables locked up and out of sight

Some home burglars use a "smash and grab" technique, which involves breaking a window or door and swiping whatever's in reach before fleeing the scene.

To discourage this kind of burglary, make sure you don't keep jewelry, medication, guns, electronics, or other valuable items sitting out in the open near your bedroom windows. Anything that's too important to lose should be locked up in a home safe. Don't forget to use a gun safe too. 

Bathroom

Bathroom

We'll be brief here because we've already created a separate guide to bathroom safety for seniors

Install grab bars

The bathtub or shower is the most dangerous place in the bathroom when it comes to falls.11 Some falls also occur when sitting down on or getting up from the toilet. 

Install a grab bar for the bath, shower, or toilet to give yourself extra stability when getting in and out of the tub or up and down from the toilet.

Use plenty of bath mats

Line the bottom of the tub with a bathmat to reduce the chances of slipping and falling. Dry yourself off while standing in the tub so you don't splash too much water out onto the bathroom floor. Then step out onto a second non-slip bathmat. This one should be highly absorbant to further reduce the amount of moisture tracked around the bathroom floor.

If you take hot showers and don't have adequate ventilation, the steam can eventually settle on the floors and walls of your bathroom. These slick surfaces increase the risk of slipping, so consider installing a bathroom fan or taking slightly cooler showers. 

Organize the medicine cabinet

Did you take your medicine today? (I'm a 30-something and even I can't remember if I did!) Use a day-of-the-week pill container to organize your prescriptions and supplements. You'll be able to tell at a glance if you forgot a dose.

You can also use technology to help you remember. Just ask Amazon Alexa to remind you to take your medicine at a certain time each day. Some medical alert devices—like those from LifeFone and MobileHelp—can remind you too, or staff can call you daily to keep you on track. 

Go a step further and get a time-sensitive lock box if you're prescribed anything that's potentially fatal if taken in excess, such as opioids for pain management. These overdoses certainly aren't a "young person's problem." In fact, people aged 75+ were hospitalized for opioid-related poisoning, abuse or dependence at the highest rate in the nation compared to other age groups in 2018.15

Having these potentially addictive pills in your home also makes you an appealing target for burglary, which is another good reason to keep them under lock and key.

Upgrade to an accessible tub and shower

If you're having trouble stepping into or out of the bathtub, consider getting a transfer bench. You sit on the bench, swing your legs over the lip of the tub, and then scoot to the other side of the bench. From there, you can safely stand up or continue to sit while showering.

Or, you can upgrade the tub to a high-sided model with a built-in door. These often have built-in seats and water jets to help you scrub-a-dub in safety and style. 

Clean kitchen

Kitchen

While fire-related deaths in older adults can be traced back to smoking,16 fire-related injuries among people 65+ are caused by kitchen fires.17 Plus, the kitchen is hazardous to people of all ages because of hot surfaces, sharp objects, heavy appliances, and potentially slick floors.

Here are some ways to ensure senior safety in the kitchen.

Install an automatic stove shut-off

Fires can also start simply because your loved one forgot to turn off the oven or stove. A product like FireAvert improves home fire safety by shutting off the stove/oven if the smoke detector goes off. 

Review how to use a fire extinguisher

About 49% of all house fires start in the kitchen, based on research by the National Fire Protection Association.25 Stop a small fire before it becomes a huge blaze by keeping a fire extinguisher on hand.

Read about the best fire extinguishers in our buyer's guide so you can bring the best one home. Pay particular attention to the canister's weight when choosing an extinguisher for a senior citizen. 

Reduce overreaching

There's no need to put yourself at risk of a fall or wrenched muscle by standing on your tip-toes to try to grab a heavy can. Use a step-stool instead, but get one with a handle and a non-slip surface so you have extra stability when stepping on and off.

If you can afford a little renovation, consider these pull-down shelves that install inside your existing cabinets. You can also get pull-out shelves for lower cabinets to reduce the need to awkwardly bend and reach for supplies.

Be mindful when cooking

Because we've done it nearly every day for years without anything catastrophic happening, it's easy to take for granted that cooking can be pretty dangerous. It doesn't hurt to stay mindful and avoid distractions so you can cook safely.

  • Roll up long sleeves and tie back long hair to avoid catching them on fire.
  • Double-check that you've turned on the correct burner—any little crumbs in the catch pan will ignite if there's no pot or skillet to absorb the heat.
  • Place a wooden spoon across the top of boiling water to prevent it from boiling over.
  • Instead of draining a pot of boiling water by lifting it and pouring it into a strainer, use a stock pot with a strainer basket insert. 
  • Use a food processor if your coordination or eyesight makes it difficult to safely use a knife.
open garage with bikes and storage

Garage

Older adults don't have too many unique garage safety concerns.

Just like younger folks, it's important for seniors to be mindful about hazardous chemicals, slick areas from car-related fluid leaks, the extreme danger of running a car or gas-powered generator in a closed garage, and the potential for thieves to try to enter your home through the garage. 

See garage safety tips in our guide to a safer home for all ages.

Learn how to drive safely as you age

Check out our guide to senior driving safety to learn about simple modifications you can make to stay safer on the road. We've also talked to health experts about the medical conditions and medications that affect your driving ability

Improve garage door security

Garage doors are easy access points for thieves, and some people have even figured out how to get garage doors open in just six seconds.18 Use these preventative tips to keep out intruders or shop for a better garage door to enhance security.

Beef up your car theft prevention strategy

It seems like your risk of a car break-in or theft has less to do with your age and more to do with what's in your car and the type of car you're driving.

Older cars may be at a higher risk of car theft because some states allow old cars to be junked without a title.19 And a car break-in is more likely to happen if you keep valuables—like electronics or tools—within view. 

Many car thefts are crimes of opportunity. Read our car theft prevention guide for tips. 

Store items carefully

Storage shelving is a great way to stay organized, but don’t go over the weight limit or you could cause an avalanche. Also, don’t ever climb on shelving to reach something, because this could cause a collapse or fall and lead to serious injury.

laundryroom

Laundry room

The laundry room's danger stems primarily from the dryer. It can catch fire if lint builds up inside the vents.20 Plus, harmful chemicals are often stored in this room. Be sure to clean your laundry room periodically and ensure that everything’s working properly.

Clean the lint trap every time

In 2010, the National Fire Protection Association reported that washers and dryers caused more than 16,000 fires and almost $240 million in property damage.20 Of those fires, 92% were caused by dryers. That’s because when people forget to clean dryer lint out of the trap and exhaust pipes, it heats up and ignites.

Just like people of all ages, seniors should clean lint from the lint trap with every cycle and perform a deeper clean once a month. A thin, flexible vacuum attachment can reach past the lint trap for a more thorough cleaning.

Regularly inspect gas hookups

Gas dryers have gas hookups, which can cause leaks and explosions if they aren’t properly connected. Have a professional come out to inspect the lines. You can also get a gas leak detector for a DIY investigation.

home office

Home office

Seniors are more vulnerable to scams and identity theft than any other age group. The Financial Fraud Research Center reports that fraud costs people $40–50 billion each year.2 And according to the National Center for Victims of Crime, Americans who are more than sixty-five-years-old are most likely to be victims and incur financial loss.3

This is why home computers, phones, and mail are areas of concern for older adults—that’s how criminals take advantage of them. Take a look at how to keep older adults safe online so you can equip yourself with knowledge and educate your loved ones.

Computers

Seniors are all too often victims of phishing scams. 

Jake Schroeder, cybersecurity expert at Medical Guardian, explains, “Many of our senior loved ones didn’t have the benefit of growing up with computers and may not be fully aware of the dangers present in the online world. When you receive a suspicious email or pop-up, it’s always best to stop and take a minute to consider the content. Malicious hackers can take control of your computer when you simply click on a malicious link or open an attachment, so if you receive a suspicious email that you weren’t expecting, it’s best to just delete it.”

Installing malware-fighting software on all home computers also prevents viruses and decreases chances of being hacked.

Mail

The government never requests Social Security numbers, banking information, or credit card numbers through the mail. Seniors who receive mail asking for money or any of this information should throw it in the trash. Also, sign up for the National Do Not Mail List to declutter your mailbox and avoid getting junk mail.

Telephones

It’s alarming when someone calls you claiming you owe them money. It’s also enticing to believe someone who says you won a free trip. Criminals know this and prey on the elderly as easy targets. Those eighty-five and older are at most risk, especially since around 20% have cognitive impairments of some kind.4

Seniors should learn the warning signs of fraudulent calls. Hang up if you feel uncomfortable or get a loved one involved if you’re unsure of the validity of a caller. Get caller ID to screen calls from unknown numbers and sign up with the National Do Not Call Registry to prevent telemarketers from calling in the first place.

Hallways

The hallway is a critical space because it connects each room in your home, giving you easy access to different rooms. Adding railings to hallways helps older adults move around more quickly, and installing detectors can keep family members safe from environmental danger.

Rails

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 2.8 million adults over age sixty-five are admitted to the hospital for fall-related injuries every year.5 Once a senior falls, they’re more likely to do it again, so install rails in hallways to prevent falls and avoid broken bones or worse.

Carbon monoxide detectors

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Carbon monoxide detectors save lives. Install one on every floor in your home—including the basement and garage. If you need help finding the best carbon monoxide detectors, read our guide.

Smoke detectors

Research conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics and National Fire Incident Reporting System revealed that people sixty-five and older are 2.5 times more likely to die in a fire than any other age group, and people over eighty-five are four times more likely than other demographics to die in fires.6 

Smoke detectors work most efficiently when installed in the right locations: every hallway, outside each bedroom door, and on all floors in the home. There are dozens of models to choose from, but SafeWise researched the top smoke detectors to help our community find the best options.

Stair lifts

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Stairs may become a challenge later in life depending on a senior’s mobility level. If getting around becomes a problem, consider installing a stair lift. While expensive, these systems prevent falls and injuries and can help seniors stay in their homes longer.

Outdoors

backyard

Once the inside of your home is optimized for senior safety, incorporate these outdoor tips for a seriously secure home and lifestyle.

Medical ID bracelets

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Medical ID bracelets tell emergency responders what they need to know about someone's prescribed medications, allergies, or chronic health conditions, even when the person cannot. Check out our list of top medical ID bracelets to find the right one for your needs.

GPS wearables

Seniors with cognitive impairment such as dementia may become lost and disoriented. Consider a GPS tracker for a loved one with dementia or another wearable device for older adults. If a senior is lost, you can log into the device's app to locate them and send help.

Security cameras

Home security cameras detect danger before it makes its way inside. Stop a home invasion by installing a home security camera outside your home or on the home of someone you care for.

Ramps

Wheelchair ramps add accessibility to your home and are a safe way for people with disabilities to get around. Find information about wheelchair ramps for your home.

Smart doorbells

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Smart doorbells are a perfect complement to smart locks because they let you see who’s at the door before you open it. Browse smart doorbells if you’re interested in this added security.

Smart locks

Smart locks operate through apps and can alert the homeowner and contacts if a door is left open—making them ideal for seniors. Shop smart locks to keep track of guests, monitor when people come and go, and prevent break-ins.


Sources

  1. Gwen Bergen, Ph.D., et. al, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, "Falls and Fall Injuries Among Adults Aged ≥65 Years — United States, 2014," September 2016. Accessed June 23, 2022.
  2. Administration for Community Living, "2020 Profile of Older Americans," May 2021. Accessed June 23, 2022.
  3. Antoine Piau, MD, Ph.D., et. al, The Journals of Gerontology, "The Five W's of Falls: Weekly Online Health Survey of Community-Dwelling Older Adults: Analysis of 4 Years Prospective Follow-up," May 2020. Accessed June 23, 2022.
  4. Andrew Milat, et. al, NSW Public Health Bulletin, "Prevalence, Circumstances, and Consequences of Falls Among Community-Dwelling Older People: Results of the 2009 NSW Falls Prevention Baseline Survey," 2011. Accessed June 23, 2022.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Facts About Falls," September 2021. Accessed June 23, 2022.
  6. J. Parkkari, et. al, Calcified Tissue International, "Majority of Hip Fractures Occur as a Result of a Fall and Impact on the Greater Trochanter of the Femur: A Prospective Controlled Hip Fracture Study with 206 Consecutive Patients," September 1999. Accessed June 23, 2022.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "WISQARS, Leading Causes of Nonfatal Injury Reports," November 2020. Accessed June 23, 2022.
  8. Audrey Weiss, Ph.D., et. al, Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, "Overview of Emergency Department Visits Related to Injuries, by Cause of Injury, 2017," November 2020. Accessed June 23, 2022.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "WISQARS, Leading Causes of Death Reports, 1981 - 2020," February 2020. Accessed June 23, 2022.
  10. National Institute on Aging, "Fall-Proofing Your Home," May 2017. Accessed June 23, 2022.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Nonfatal Bathroom Injuries Among Persons Aged ≥15 Years, United States - 2008," June 2011. Accessed June 23, 2022.
  12. Morgan Goad, Jewish Family Services Richmond, "Why Does Balance Decline With Age?" January 2020. Accessed June 24, 2022.
  13. US Census Bureau, “Mobility is Most Common Disability Among Older Americans, Census Bureau Reports," December 2, 2014. Accessed September 24, 2021.
  14. Underwriters Laboratories, "New Demonstration Video Shows You Only Have 3 Minutes to Escape a Home Fire," October 2020. Accessed June 24, 2022.
  15. Kathryn Fingar, Ph.D., MPH, et. al, Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, "Opioid-Related and Stimulant-Related Adult Inpatient Stays, 2012-2018," February 2021. Accessed June 24, 2022.
  16. US Fire Administration, "Fire Safety for Older Adults," October 2018. Accessed June 24, 2022.
  17. City of Fitchburg Public Safety, "Fire Safety for the Elderly." Accessed June 24, 2022.
  18. Jennifer Waugh, News4Jax, "Thief Can Open Your Garage Door in 6 Seconds," May 2014. Accessed June 24, 2022.
  19. J. David Goodman, The New York Times, "For Car Thieves, the Older and Heavier the Ride, the Better," April 2014. Accessed June 24, 2022.
  20. National Fire Protection Association, "New Report Outlines Trends in Home Fires Involving Clothes Dryers and Washing Machines," May 22, 2017. Accessed September 24, 2021.
  21. Stanford Center on Longevity, “Scams, Schemes, and Swindles: A Review of Consumer Financial Fraud Research," November 11, 2012. Accessed September 24, 2021.
  22. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, “National Center for Victims of Crime, FINRA Foundation Release Taking Action: An Advocate’s Guide to Assisting Victims of Financial Fraud," October 9, 2013. Accessed September 24, 2021.
  23. University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, "Aging in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities for Americans," Accessed September 24, 2021.
  24. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Important Facts about Falls," February 10, 2017. Accessed September 24, 2021.
  25. US Fire Administration, “US Fire Deaths, Fire Death Rates, and Risk of Dying in a Fire." Accessed September 24, 2021.
  26. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report," June 10, 2011. Accessed September 24, 2021.
  27. National Fire Protection Association, “Cooking.” Accessed September 24, 2021.

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Best overall1000 ft.32 hrs.
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Best for fall detection400 ft.Not available
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Best value1300 ft.32 hrs.
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Best GPS tracking options1300 ft.32 hrs.
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Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over seven years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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