The Seniors Safe Living Guide, Part VI: Keeping Safe through Adapting Your Home
The Seniors Safe Living Guide, Part VI: Keeping Safe through Adapting Your Home

If you're thinking of renovating, why not consider adding a few additional safety features to your home to help make it a comfortable and safer place for years to come? Should you decide to move, the increased safety and accessibility could also be selling features. Word of mouth is often the best way to find reliable tradespeople to do renovations. Ask friends and acquaintances for information, and be sure to get price quotes from at least two potential contractors. The following suggestions will give you some ideas for your renovation planning. 

Lighting and Switches

It's important to have plenty of well-positioned and well-diffused lighting. If you're having electrical work done, consider adding lighting in high traffic areas, in stairways, in closets and over the bathroom sink and kitchen work areas. Install switches at the top and bottom of your stairs. Consider installing all switches lower on the walls if someone in your household uses a wheelchair. Rocker switches are easier to use. Dimmer switches allow you to leave certain lights on low, for example, between the bedroom and bathroom.

Electrical Outlets

Adding more electrical outlets will help prevent overloading or having to run electrical cords across areas where they may be in the way. Extension cords should never be used on a permanent basis, since this presents a fire hazard. Power bars can help prevent short circuits and fires.


If you plan to work on or replace a door, check the height of the door sill or threshold. It should be no more than 1/2" (13 mm) high. It may be a good idea to reduce or remove the door sill because uneven surfaces can lead to a trip or a fall. You may also want to widen doorways to accommodate wheelchairs or replace doorknobs with lever handles, which are easier to use. Also, consider the advantages of sliding or swinging doors, and doors that open outward.


The backs of stairs should be closed in. There should be firmly anchored handrails on both sides of the stairway (height 36 to 39 inches), which extend beyond the top and bottom steps and are mounted far enough out from the wall to allow for a solid grip. In addition, the stairway should be well lit and the steps should have a non-skid surface.


If you're replacing flooring, use non-glare, slip-resistant flooring material. A hard floor surface or tight pile carpeting is best. Consider using the same floor surface over different areas in order to eliminate uneven surfaces.


For efficiency and convenience in your kitchen, consider adding lower level shelves, such as between the counter top and cupboard level. Lower cupboards, sliding shelves and lazy-susans in cupboard corners put kitchen items within easier reach. You may also wish to install lower shelves in your pantry and closets.

Taps, Shower Heads, Grab Bars

If you plan to replace your kitchen or bathroom taps, lever-type or control-arm-type faucet handles are easier to use. Make sure you install grab bars solidly on the wall studs. A hand-held shower head is easier to use when using a bath seat.

Locks and Latches

Door locks in bathrooms must have an emergency release. Locks and latches should have large, easily manipulated knobs or levers. The market now has models that offer both safety and security, such as push-button or card-access locks.


Windows and overhead lights are a must. Additional lighting should also be available over benches and stationary tools. Adequate ventilation systems are needed to vent smoke, fumes and exhaust gases. Open windows and doors may provide enough ventilation in the summer but not in the winter. The wiring must be of adequate capacity to handle lighting, heating and power tool requirements.

Stan's story Seven years ago, when the Krzaniaks decided to have some renovations done to their home, they were thinking ahead to the future: they had a small laundry room built on the back of their three-bedroom bungalow. "When everything is on one floor, it's like living in a condominium, really," says Stan. The Krzaniaks also added other safety features to the house. "We installed rails on both sides of the stairs to the basement. We have a total of six telephones in the house - if a telephone rings, you never have to run! We have smoke detectors and lots of lights. One thing we might add later on is rails along the hall, or wherever we've got an open wall. That's a small thing to do."

Stan recently suffered a heart attack. He now participates in mall-walking to help recuperate. He has also started hiring people to do many of the outdoor chores he used to do himself - like shoveling snow and digging the garden. The Krzaniaks are fortunate to have the savings to spend this way. In Stan's opinion, it's money well spent. "I think you have to balance the benefits against the expense. If you look at the number of people who've fallen down with heart attacks while shoveling snow - why, it probably pays to get someone to do it." The Krzaniaks feel that the precautions they're taking around the house is their way of promoting their independence for a long time to come.

You CAN Prevent Falls!

Falls are by far the leading cause of seniors' injuries and injury-related hospitalization in North America. They cause pain and for many, lead to a move from home to a care establishment. They often cost seniors their independence and quality of life. They also represent huge costs to our health system. Yet most falls incurred by seniors are preventable. Whether you live in a house, a condo or an apartment, living at home safely requires adapting your environment, your behavior and your lifestyle to the normal changes that age brings. You need to make sure your home is safe.

This may involve installing brighter lighting, moving your furniture around, uncluttering your floors, rethinking your storage shelves, putting in night lights or getting a good fire extinguisher. You need to keep yourself healthy and active. Whatever your physical condition, it's never too late to eat well and to be more active. Consult your health professional if you're in doubt about a new diet or a new exercise program. Not only will this benefit your overall health and increase your resistance to disease, it will also help you maintain the balance and strength you need to ward off falls and serious injury at home and elsewhere.

Recognize that assistive devices and gadgets are a smart way to make your everyday life easier, independent and safe. Find out what's available and use them! Every change you make to adapt your home and to stay healthy will help keep you from falls and injury. We hope that this guide has provided you with many suggestions that will allow you to remain safely in your own home for many years to come.


Reproduced from the Public Health Agency of Canada website.